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The Banality of Criminality: Complicity and Dishonor in the Age of Trump, the Example of Michael Flynn

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dwight D. Eisenhower noted:

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”

It is becoming more clear every day that the wheels are coming off the Presidency of Donald Trump, and that as a man and as a person that he is losing any grip on reality and lives in a cloud-Cuckoo land of lies, untruths, and alternate facts. He has shown throughout his life and career that he has no integrity, especially while serving as President, which makes Eisenhower’s words relevant to our present crisis.

Likewise it is quite clear now, that the President has been implicated in what the founders of the country and the writers of our Constitution would understand to be high crimes and misdemeanors. The banality of his and his administration’s criminality is buttressed by the cult of personality that surrounds him. The latter would not be possible without the fifty year process of the moral and ethical disintegration of the Republican Party. Eisenhower wouldn’t recognize the GOP of today.

However, the President has not been indicated in Federal Court, nor charged with crimes and impeached by the House of Representatives yet, but the writing is on the wall. It is only a matter of time before Robert Mueller indicts the men closest to the President; his son Donald Jr., and son-in-Law Jared Kushner. The evidence is mounting of their premeditated attempt to collude with Russia for both political and financial gain. The revelations of the past week would be the beginning of the end for the President and his lawless administration if only the GOP members of the Senate would have the courage to do what Barry Goldwater did in 1974 to give Richard Nixon an ultimatum.

Over the past week we have seen countless GOP leaders excuse the blatant lies of the President, and ignore the complicity of him, his family, and his closest collaborators as “they didn’t happen”, “if they did happen they weren’t criminal”, ” they happened and they were against the law, but they are not really Crimes because it’s a bad law”, or “people do them all the time”, and “what about Hillary?” Of course none of these defenses call for personal responsibility or defense of the law and Constitution, it is all about holding onto power.

But even more troubling than the President and his conditorei of putrid family members, bankers, investors, shyster lawyers, and incredibly compromised and often incompetent individuals he has appointed to cabinet positions, are some of the former military men in the cabinet who served in the cabinet. The most notorious of these is the convicted felon and retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who after getting a gift in the form of sentencing accused the FBI of tricking him into lying. I won’t even go into Ryan Zinke, John Kelly, or Mike Pompeo.

Flynn’s film-flam act is maddening to me because as an officer he should have known better. He lied to investigators and he certainly knew that lying to them was wrong. I know this because I enlisted the same year that he was commissioned, and was just two years behind him when I was commissioned. We come out of the same post-Vietnam pipeline of Army officers. We both were commissioned from the ROTC program, albeit from different universities. But we knew the rules, our programs were similar in that Ethics was taught, and after Vietnam it was considered a big deal. I don’t know about Flynn, but I had to take a course on military law while in ROTC. We went through officer basic and officer advanced courses that contained a common core of classes, We served as platoon leaders, company executive officers, company commanders, as well as battalion and brigade staff officers.

As officers we both administered the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and both took sworn statements, administered Miranda Rights, conducted 15-6 investigations, Reports of Survey, and as commanders administered non-judicial punishment under Article 15. When doing that we served as prosecutor, judge, and jury over the soldiers charged with violating the UCMJ. There is no way that Flynn didn’t known that lying to an investigator wasn’t wrong. He lied and knew that it was wrong.

My career path veered from his when I returned to the National Guard to attend seminary full time to become a Chaplain. My senior positions have all been served as an Army or Navy Chaplain. Like him I served in combat, except I did so unarmed, far away from big battalions that could protect me.

But maybe I embraced an ethic that Flynn didn’t, let’s call it The Code. Let me explain.

My thirty-seven plus year military career began in the Army. I enlisted in the California Army National Guard when I entered the senior ROTC program at UCLA. Though I never attended West Point, Annapolis, or any of the other military academies, I always embraced the Cadet Code of the United States Military Academy at West Point. It states:

“A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”

Likewise I have always subscribed to and tried to uphold the motto of West Point, which General Douglas MacArthur put into such moving words in 1962:

“Duty, Honor, Country” — those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.

Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean.

The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and, I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule.

But these are some of the things they do. They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the nation’s defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid.

They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for action; not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm, but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future, yet never neglect the past; to be serious, yet never take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.

They give you a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, an appetite for adventure over love of ease.

They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what next, and the joy and inspiration of life. They teach you in this way to be an officer and a gentleman…”

The code may sound old fashioned, a bit puritanical, or even pharisaical to some, including many current and former officers. I actually had a friend, a retired Army Chaplain who retired at a grade higher than I will ever hold told me that in my criticism of the President and his high ranking supporters that he saw “my inner Pharisee” come out. I told him that it wasn’t my “inner Pharisee, but my inner Army company Commander.” I subscribe to a code of honor that far too many people across the political spectrum despise and ridicule, especially those of the Christian Right who defend the President as if he is the Messiah. Sometimes I feel like Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men, except I wouldn’t order the code red.

The concept of honor may be a punch line to many people but for me it has been a way of life. That honor includes telling the truth, even as an officer to commanders and those that outrank me. Doing this has cost me dearly many times in my career in both the Army and Navy. I cannot shut up an be silent when I see superiors lying, cheating, and tolerating those who do. To enforce such ideas on junior personnel is expected, but to speak those words in a prophetic voice to those in power is dangerous, but I have often lived dangerously, and truthfully I have been lucky. Only once has someone tried to have me tried by Court Martial, and that was a retired officer last year who made a written complain to my commanding officer for a sermon that I preached, but I digress…

The reality is that throughout my life I have tried to live up to the Cadet Code, and the motto of Duty, Honor, Country my whole life and for doing somI have often been treated as an anachronism, out of step with the world, even at times from senior military officers.

I could tell you stories, but only over a beer in a bar about those instances, without any recording devices at hand. That being said, if I ever ran into the people that I am talking about, I would confront them in person and give them a chance to defend their actions. I would then walk away, satisfied that my honor was still intact.

But what bothers me now mor than anything is watching men and women who I once respected, defend the indefensible, excuse the inexcusable, and accuse the already acquitted for actions of the President and those around him who if he had been a Democrat they would have already voted to impeach. But my standard has been consistent regardless of who the President is and what his party affiliation. I wanted to see Bill Clinton impeached, I couldn’t support John Edwards because of he cheated on his wife when she had cancer, and as much as I liked and admired him, I thought it was right that former Senator Al Franken resigned, as much as I liked and respected him as a Senator. I have no respect for Newt Gingrich in part for having an affair, and divorcing his wife while she was fighting cancer. Likewise,as much as I like him as a person, I still believe that George W. Bush was a War Criminal for invading Iraq.

The office of the President, the Constitution, and our system of government mean much more to me than my party affiliation. Frankly, that has always been the case for me.

I spent the vast majority of my adult life as a Republican for God’s sakes, but after returning from Iraq, and seeing the claims of the Bush Administration for the war, which I had believed, turn out to be lies on the order of the crimes that we prosecuted at Nuremberg, just couldn’t remain in the party.

When I see people who I know and consider to be friends throw ethics, morality, and faith under the bus to defend the indefensible acts of this President I do get worried, and all of us should be because it is happening all the time.

I was raised to believe that military officers are to hold to a higher moral code than politicians, lawyers, businessmen, or even priests or preachers; I was an officer long before I was ordained. For me it all goes back to the West Point Cadet Code.

So when I see Michael Flynn attack the FBI for “tricking him to lie” after he was cut a huge deal for his testimony, I have to wonder where he was in the classes about military ethics. But then maybe his Professor of Military Science hadn’t been assigned to the Task Force that investigated the My Lai Massacre, or whose primary history professor at California State University Northridge, Dr. Helmut Haeussler, who served as an interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials. I know what happens when military officers sacrifice their integrity to serve leaders that have none, or in wars where they abandon all the principles that they were supposed to uphold.

But then, just maybe in the words of my friend, mentor, and former superior, maybe I am a Pharisee because I value honor over political expediency, or what helps me the most right now.

So for today I will leave you with the words of General Ludwig Beck who lost his life during the abortive attempt to kill Hitler on July 20th 1944:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”

That is what I consider to the moral failure of the officers cannot see anything wrong in the actions of this President and his administration; they place their party and ideology over the Constitution, the law, and the people. They not only tolerate, but they defend those who lie, cheat, and steal to gain political power.

For me it always comes back to that code of honor.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under crime, culture, ethics, History, Military, News and current events, Political Commentary

Meeting Old Friends in Eisenach

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a long day so tonight’s post is basically to check in. We left Wittenberg this morning after a nice visit to meet our friends Gottfried and Hannelore in the town of Eisenach for Judy’s birthday which is tomorrow.

On the way we stopped at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp outside of Weimar. It was another sobering visit to a site where man’s inhumanity to man remains fully on display. I will write more about that later and may combine what I write with my observations at Flossenbürg which I visited Thursday.

We arrived at the hotel shortly before they did about 3:45 and we spent the afternoon and evening conversing and reminiscing over dinner and drinks. Our friendship with them is special, we have known them since early 1985 when I was a young Army First Lieutenant stationed in Wiesbaden Germany. We got to know each other through the partnership program between the 68th Medical Group and Sanitäts Regiment 74. Gottfried, who had worked himself up through the enlisted ranks to become an officer was also a First Lieutenant and the Officer in Charge of a Medical Clinic in Mainz.

Over the years we have managed to stay in touch. We have seen their children grow up and have kids of their own. We know Hannelore’s brother and many of their friends. They are like family to us. Tomorrow we will have breakfast with them and then go over to see the Wartburg Castle where Martin Luther was hidden by his supporters after his defense at the Diet of Worms, an where he translated the New Testament from Greek into German. After that we will each head our separate ways, they to their home where they are dealing with repairs to their own home as well as the disposition of the home and business Hannelore’s aunt who died in April. We will drive to Berlin where we will remain until Tuesday.

We will get some pictures posted of the visit sometime soon as I keep getting backlogged on the articles that I plan on writing due to the travel schedule of the past few days. So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under life, Loose thoughts and musings, Travel

Remembering the Men of D-Day: In the Era of Trump who Will We Channel?

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I find the days around Memorial Day and the anniversaries of the Battle of Midway and the D-Day landings to be a time when I become quite reflective about what it means to be a career American military officer, combat veteran, and the son of a Navy Chief who was also a combat veteran.

When he spoke on Omaha Beach during the ceremony marking the 70thAnniversary of the D-Day landings President Barak Obama said:

“We are on this Earth for only a moment in time.  And fewer of us have parents and grandparents to tell us about what the veterans of D-Day did here 70 years ago.  As I was landing on Marine One, I told my staff, I don’t think there’s a time where I miss my grandfather more, where I’d be more happy to have him here, than this day.  So we have to tell their stories for them.  We have to do our best to uphold in our own lives the values that they were prepared to die for.  We have to honor those who carry forward that legacy, recognizing that people cannot live in freedom unless free people are prepared to die for it.”

All of my adult life I have striven to uphold those values that those men were prepared to die for, and for almost 37 years of Army and Navy service that I have been prepared to do so at a moment’s notice. I still am, against all threats, foreign and domestic. I just hope that I will never have to repeat the words of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg: “I’m a soldier, but in serving my country, I have betrayed my conscience.”

Seventy-four years ago the liberation of France began on the beaches of Normandy.  Soldiers from 6 Allied Infantry and 3 Airborne Divisions supported by an Armada of over 5000 ships and landing craft and several thousand aircraft braved weather, heavy seas and in places fierce German resistance to gain the foothold on beaches named Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword and Juno.  Over the next seven weeks the Allied soldiers advanced yard by yard through the hedgerows and villages of Normandy against ferocious German resistance before they were able to break out of the lodgment area and begin the drive across France. In his D-Day message to his troops General Dwight Eisenhower reminded them that their mission was the elimination of Nazi tyranny over oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.” There are still those in the world who subject their people to tyranny and attempt to destabilize and overthrow the governments of liberty loving peoples, likewise Eisenhower knew that security for ourselves meant close alliances with those who have our values and not isolating ourselves from the world.

The fighting was bloody, most American, British and Canadian infantry battalions and regiments suffered nearly 100% casualty rates in Normandy.  Replacements were fed in at a cyclic rate to make up the losses even as fresh divisions flowed ashore, but the losses were terrible.  By the time the landings took place, the British having been at war for nearly five years were bled out.  They had little left to replace their losses.  From Normandy on the British were losing combat power at a rate that they could not make up.

For the Americans there was another problem.  The US High command decided to limit the Army to 90 Divisions.  Many of these were committed to the Pacific and Mediterranean theaters.   Likewise, American Infantry units were generally made up of the lowest caliber of recruits, led often by the poorest officers; the best went to either the Air Corps or technical branches of the Army.

Now this is not to criticize these veterans, but it was a factor in the campaign.  Most US Infantry Divisions with the exceptions of those previously blooded in North Africa and Sicily often performed badly in action.  Some, after being manhandled by the Germans had their leadership replaced and became excellent combat units.  However, every new division that arrived in France after D-Day always got the worst of their initial engagement against German forces.

While performance suffered there was another problem for the Americans.  With the limitation in number of divisions, they stopped building infantry divisions, upon whom the bulk of the campaign depended. Thus they had little in the way of trained infantry replacements to make up heavy losses in Normandy.  By late 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge the American infantry crisis was so bad that 30,000 Air Corps candidates were trained as infantry and soldiers support units such as Ant-Aircraft battalions were used to bolster infantry units.

Had the Germans been able to hold out. Had they not been bled white by the Red Army on the Easter Front. Had they not lost the nearly their entire Army Group Center in the Red Army offensive of 1944 it is conceivable that the British and American offensive in the West would have ground to a halt for lank of infantry in 1945.  In spite of this there was no lack of individual courage among the troops engaged; the courage and sacrifice of all who fought there should not be forgotten.

The human toll among the combatants both Allied and German, as well as the local populace was especially traumatic.  While the American, Canadian and British people are keen to remember the sacrifices made by our soldiers we often forget the toll among the French civilian population of Normandy as well as the German soldiers, mostly conscripts, sacrificed by the Nazi regime.  Normandy suffered more than any part of France during the liberation.  In the months leading up to D-Day Allied Air Forces unleashed hell on Normandy to attempt to lessen potential German resistance.  The Allied Naval bombardment added to the carnage ashore and once the campaign began the combined fires of both Allied and German forces devastated the region.  Whole cites such as Caen were destroyed by Allied Air forces and an estimated 30,000 French civilians were killed during the Normandy campaign, 3000 on D-Day alone.  I think it can be said that the blood of the civilians of Normandy was shed for the freedom of all of France.

The campaign in Normandy was one of the most viciously contested in western military history.  German forces, especially the elite paratroops of the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th Fallschirmjager Divisions, the German Army Panzer Divisions such as the 2nd, 21st, 116th and Panzer Lehr, and those of the Waffen-SS, especially the 1st, 2nd and 12th SS Panzer Divisions held the line against ever increasing Allied forces.  As they sacrificed themselves Hitler refused to commit more forces to Normandy and insisted that his Army contest every meter of ground. In doing so they were ground to dust, their casualties massive, but Hitler forbade his commanders to withdraw his troop to more defensible positions along the Seine.

Hitler’s decisions actually shortened the campaign.  Whatever the crimes of the Hitler Regime and Nazism, which were among the most heinous in history, one can never question the valor, courage and sacrifice of ordinary German soldiers, but many of them too shared in the crimes of the Nazi regime. Their courage and sacrifices were forever tarnished by the cause that they fought for and the way their country and many of them waged war, on the Eastern Front, and in some case on the Western Front.

For those Americans who lump all Germans who fought in World War II with the evil of the Nazi regime, please do not forget this fact:  There are those today, even in this country that make the same charge against Americans who have fought in Iraq and those at home and abroad who have labeled the US as an aggressor nation. As President Trump continues to go his own way to make the United States a pariah nation we have to be very aware of the costs of it and also remember that the Americans who went ashore on D-Day did so to help defeat a pariah nation that had flaunted every standard of justice in attempting to make Germany Great Again. When you judge others, know that the same standard will be applied to you someday and it is possible that our day may come sooner than we think. It is as Justice Robert Jackson who served as the Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal wrote:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Normandy was a near run thing for the Allies.  First the weather almost delayed it by 2 to 4 weeks.  Had that happened the Germans might have been even better prepared to meet the invasion.  Likewise, the Red Army’s devastating offensive which annihilated Army Group Center in June kept the Germans from transferring additional forces from the Russian Front to Normandy.  On D-Day itself there were a number of times where Lady Luck, or maybe the Deity Herself, saved the Allies from disaster.

Any person who has seen Saving Private RyanThe Longest Day or Band of Brothers knows a little bit about how close Overlord came to failure.  Allied Airborne units were dispersed throughout the region after they drooped.  Many units were not fully operational for more than a day as they sought to organize themselves and gather their troops.  At Omaha Beach the Americans had not counted on the presence of the first rate German 352nd Infantry Division.  This division, despite being pounded by naval and air forces almost cause General Bradley to withdraw from Omaha.  At Utah the soldiers of the 4th Infantry division escaped a similar mauling by landing on the wrong beach.  Had they landed at the planned beaches they would have ran into the same kind of resistance from well dug in German forces.  At Gold Juno and Sword British forces benefited from confusion in the German command which kept the 21st Panzer Division from descending on the British forces and quite possibly splitting the British zones.

The Allies benefited from the absence of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, Commander of Army Group B who because of the ad weather assumed no invasion was possible and traveled to German to celebrate his wife’s birthday.  Finally, and perhaps most important they benefited by Hitler’s refusal to immediately commit forces, including his Panzer reserve to defeat the invasion at the beachhead.

For those who fought in Normandy and those civilians who lived through it the memories are still vivid. Many suffer the effects of PTSD, grief and other wounds, physical, emotional and spiritual.  When one is exposed to the danger and destruction of war, the smell of death, the sight of burned out cities, vehicles and the suffering of the wounded and dying, it makes for a lifetime of often painful memories.

For some of the German, British and American veterans, the struggle in Normandy has given way to long lasting friendships.  Many of those who fought against the Allied onslaught became fast friends after the war. Those who fought against each other were soon allies as part of NATO and soldiers of nations which were once bitter enemies serve together in harm’s way in Afghanistan.  The generation that fought at Normandy is rapidly passing away, their numbers ever dwindling they remain a witness to courage, sacrifice and reconciliation.

In the end it is reconciliation and healing that matters. Some scars of war never pass away; some memories are far too painful to release.  Yet we who serve often strive to reconcile.  In 2002 while deployed at sea for Operation Enduring Freedom I was an advisor to a boarding team from my ship.  It was our job to make sure that impounded ships which were breaking the UN embargo on Iraq were not in danger of sinking, and that their crews had food, water and medical care.  Since many of these ships remained at anchor for 2-4 weeks in the heat of the Arabian Gulf, this was important.

The delays imposed by UN rules sometimes meant that the sailors of these ships grew resentful.  It was my job to spend time with the Masters of these ships to keep things calm and work out any issues that arose.  On one of these ships I met an Iraqi merchant skipper.  The man was well traveled, educated in the U.K. in the 1960s and in his career a frequent visitor to the US. In 1990 he was the senior captain of the Kuwaiti shipping line.  Then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.  As a result of this when Kuwait was liberated he lost his job.  His nation was an international pariah.  Since his life was the sea he took up the only job possible to support his family, what he knew best, captaining ships.  He was most apologetic for the trouble that he and others like him caused us.  We shared much during those visits.   One of his daughters was in medical school and other children in university.  He longed for the day when Iraq would be free.  On our last talk before his ship was released he remarked to me “I hope one day we will meet again.  Maybe someday like the American, British and German soldiers after the war, we can meet in a pub, share a drink and be friends.” 

I too pray for that, especially after my tour in Al Anbar five years after I encountered that Iraqi Merchant Captain.  Maybe someday we will meet. I hope that he is still alive and maybe he will see this.  I thought of him almost every day that I was in Iraq. I only hope that he and his family have survived the war, the continuing violence in Iraq and are doing well. There is hardly a day that goes by that I do not think of this man or the Iraqis that I had the honor of serving alongside in Al Anbar in 2007 and 2008.

President Obama remarked in Normandy last week about the veterans of the 9-11 Generation of service members, of which I and so many others like me are part:

“And this generation — this 9/11 Generation of service members — they, too, felt something.  They answered some call; they said “I will go.”  They, too, chose to serve a cause that’s greater than self — many even after they knew they’d be sent into harm’s way.  And for more than a decade, they have endured tour after tour.”

The survivors of the D-Day landings and those on the other side of the hill are continuing to pass from the bonds of this earth and into eternity. We owe it to them and to the world to make what they sacrificed themselves to do into reality, battling tyranny and striving for peace and security.

But that being said, what good will that be if we allow freedom to die at home? I wonder if like Claus von Stauffenberg who came to understand that serving Germany was not the same as serving Hitler, if we who serve today will have to make that same choice in regard to President Trump. In light of his actions and his words which indicate that he believes that he is above the law, can that point not be far away? Likewise will we who serve more embody the Americans, British, Canadians, and French at D-Day or the Germans?

Both are good questions to ask as we remember the men of D-Day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq, Military, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, us army, War on Terrorism, world war two in europe

“When Aspiring to the Highest Place” Thoughts on my Third Failure to Select for Promotion to Navy Captain

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short post tonight after a busy day of work and ministry. Not long before I left work I saw an email with a screen shot of the promotion list to Captain in the Navy Chaplain Corps. I was not on it. While I have not seen the promotion listed posted on the Bureau of Naval Personnel website I presume it is accurate and that I was again not selected for promotion.

I am actually relieved this year. Last year I was quite upset at not being selected but this year I rejoice for those men and women who were selected and pray for their success in their higher grade. From the list I saw I have no complaints and after having looked back and reflected over the seven years that I was selected for promotion to the grade of Commander until now I am able to see why I have not been selected for Captain in the Chaplain Corps.

Without going into details part of the problem was me. First I came out as being broken with PTSD and confessing to needing help. One of my former Master Chiefs in the EOD community told me that while it was true that we could be open about needing help, but that if we did we would never get promoted or be assigned to billets that would help us get promoted. He was right.

Secondly, while crashing into the PTSD abyss I never marketed myself to my immediate superiors or the Chaplain Corps of why I should be promoted. From 2010 until 2017 I wrote almost all of my own FITREPS. Since for much of that time I was chronically depressed and often nearly suicidal I wrote reports that were very plain, which basically said that I did my job, whether it was being the Department Head at a Naval Hospital on a major Marine Corps Base or being a professor at a major Joint Staff College. I didn’t try to brag about my accomplishments. Instead I tried to market the successes of my subordinates while trying to find a reason to stay alive. It wasn’t until I left the Joint Forces Staff College and our Commandant, Admiral Jeff Ruth wrote my FITREP did I begin to emerge from the abyss of depression and did I again begin to see that what I did really mattered.

However, what he wrote was not good enough, it was like getting the maximum score in the long program of Olympic figure skating but having fallen on my ass in the short program. That being said I am now quite okay with that. As Cicero said: “When you are aspiring to the highest place, it is honorable to reach the second or even the third rank”

Cicero was right. When I was commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant in 1983 most of us thought that being about to retire as Major would be successful, a Lieutenant Colonel quite successful, and a Colonel or General officer a superstar. The same was true for my friends who began their careers in the Navy, Marine Corps, or Air Force during that time.

But the cult of success really fucks with peoples minds, and it did mine. Though the number of billets for promotion to Navy Captain, or Colonel in the other services has gone down, along with the chance of selection to Captain, Colonel, Commander, or Lieutenant Colonel the military culture often says that if you don’t make Captain or Colonel you are not successful. Honestly, that is not the case. I know to many men and women who served full careers and ended their careers as Majors or Lieutenant Commanders who were better officers and Chaplains than I will ever be, and I made Major in the Army, as well as Lieutenant Commander and Commander in the Navy.

Regardless of that it really hurts not to be selected. Last year I was so angry and depressed about it that I was practically inconsolable. Later I talked with others who felt the same way after their second non-select and found that they went through the same emotions that I did. All felt that they had been personally assaulted by their non-selection and humiliated, despite having great records of service, education, and training.

Honestly, I think that some of my friends who never made Commander or Lieutenant Colonel were and are every bit more deserving than me. Some of them are the people who helped hold me together after my time in Iraq and when I didn’t know if I would continue living, not just serving. I fully understand the thoughts of Ulysses S. Grant who wrote:

“The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.”

I made Major in the Army and Commander in the Navy. I have done close to two full careers in the military and when I retire in 2020 or 2021 I will have served some 39 or 40 years in the military. Like I said, most of us who entered the military in the early 1980s hoped that after 20 years we would be able to retire as a Major or Lieutenant Colonel (Navy Lieutenant Commander or Commander). I have done both and I want to be there for others who have experienced the ups and downs, the triumphs and tragedies, the victories and defeats of military service. How can I not? As Earl Weaver once quipped “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

That being said I have not stopped learning. I still have two to three years left before I finish my service. In that time much may yet happen because I like you do not fully know of the future, or what it portends. President Trump is not the most stable or honorable or men. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top and Petersburg, a Soldier, philosopher, and theologian like me wrote:

“We know not of the future, and cannot plan for it much. But we can hold our spirits and our bodies so pure and high, we may cherish such thoughts and ideals, and dream such dreams of lofty purpose, that we can determine and know what manner of men we will be whenever and wherever the hour strikes that calls to noble action…, No man becomes suddenly different from his habit and cherished thought.”

So as I close out the night I am incredibly grateful and thankful and I am profoundly grateful for the men and women who have been pillars of strength and inspiration to me over the past 37 years.

During my career I have been a Platoon Leader, Company Commander, a Brigade Staff Officer, as well as a battalion, group, ship, and installation Chaplain, as well as a professor of ethics and military history. I have nothing to be ashamed about.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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An Army Friend is Promoted to General on the Navy Birthday

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was interesting. It was the 242nd Birthday of the U.S. Navy and I spent most of the day traveling to and from Washington D.C. to see an old friend from my Army days being promoted to Brigadier General as the U.S. Army Reserve Deputy Chief of Chaplains. It was strange not being in on any of the Navy Birthday celebrations this year, but it was a good day to see my friend promoted. My friend Bob is one of the good guys who in his career didn’t sell his soul to get promoted, in fact he was planning to retire when he found out that he was being promoted.

On the Navy Birthday I usually post an article dealing with Naval History, and I will sometime soon, but today it was important to be there to congratulate Bob on his promotion. I was the only Navy Chaplain at the ceremony, I kind of thought that the Navy and Air Force Chief of Chaplains offices would be there to congratulate an Army colleague but I was wrong. I guess that I have spent too many years in Joint billets where it is common to celebrate the achievements of our colleagues from our sister services that I expect this to be the norm. Maybe there were extenuating circumstances why no representatives of the other services were not at the promotion, but for the life of me I don’t understand.

The ceremony was interesting when I realized that at one time I had outranked everyone in the room, including all of the Generals. Now I am just ranker than them. I did see a number of men that I had served with including one who had been in the Army Chaplain Officer Basic Course with me in 1990, he is a Colonel now but like everyone else I used to outrank him too.

So on this Navy Birthday I was reminded of the nearly full career I spent in the Army before transferring to the Navy in February of 1999. It has been a long strange trip. So to my friend Bob, congratulations, and to my Navy brothers and sisters, Happy Birthday.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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To Iraq and Back: Prelude: I was Born for This

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Me in 1982 

This is the first actual chapter in my series “To Iraq and Back: Padre Steve’s War and Return.” I wrote last night that I was going to be doing this and I figure that there is no time like the present to start. Just about 6 years ago I was preparing to deploy to Iraq as an individual augment supporting the US Marine and Army advisors to Iraqi Army and Security Forces in Al Anbar Province. After 6 years I think I can finally complete my literary account of my experiences in Iraq, my return and subsequent struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). 

Though I am not certain, I do think that many of us were born for what we feel called to do. As bit of a theologian I can honestly say that I am not a Calvinist or strict Augustinian who believes that we are simply playing out some predetermined role or fate on earth. Neither am I a fatalist but I really do feel, that whether it was something God ordained, something genetic or a product of my environment growing up, that I was born to do what I do.

As one who has some training as well in psychology and pastoral care I also understand that the human mind is a very complicated lump of gray matter. I know that we as human being as products of our genetic make up, our upbringing and environment, education, spiritual formation, relationships ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

So I know what I believe about my calling to serve in the military and the priestly vocation cannot be scientifically proven. That being said, I believe and that belief in my calling survived even in my times of unbelief.  A paradox for sure, belief and unbelief coexisting at the same time in the same person, but Father Andrew Greeley said it well in his novel The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St Germain: “Most priests, if they have any sense or any imagination, wonder if they truly believe all the things they preach. Like Jean-Claude they both believe and not believe at the same time.”

My tour in Iraq in a sense was the culmination of my calling, a call that I felt at a very early age, to serve in the military and later to be called to serve as a Priest in the military. I have long figured that to have served a full career in the military in time of war and not to have gone forward into danger to do what I have trained all my life to do.

I have a hard time not remembering when I wanted to serve in the military and serve in combat. That may sound strange but for some reason, even though I was not encouraged to follow this path it was something that growing up as the son of a Navy Chief Petty Officer who served at the Battle of An Loc in the Vietnam War that I felt was my destiny. Maybe it is faith, maybe it is some sort of mysticism or even fatalism, but I do believe that for good or for bad that I am doing what I was born to do.

George Patton commented: “A man must know his destiny. if he does not recognize it, then he is lost. By this I mean, once, twice, or at the very most, three times, fate will reach out and tap a man on the shoulder. if he has the imagination, he will turn around and fate will point out to him what fork in the road he should take, if he has the guts, he will take it.”

I am sure that my family and my earliest friends can testify to my love of all things military and the nearly romantic calling that soldiering had on my life. At nearly every turn in life I have responded to the military calling by volunteering for assignments that would place me closest to the action. There were times that my wishes were thwarted and my desires placed on hold, but they never died.

I served on the Fulda Gap in the Cold War and missed serving in ht First Iraq War because I had left active duty to attend seminary and my National Guard unit just missed being mobilized. I did support the Bosnia operation as a mobilized Army Reserve Major and during that mobilized period of service was told that I was not a place for me in the Regular Army. However, a few months after my last active reserve posting I was given the chance to apply for active duty as a Navy Chaplain. Less than 7 weeks after the first talk with the Navy I resigned my Army Reserve commission as a Major and accepted a lower rank, that of a Navy Lieutenant to enter active duty in February 1999.

The Marine unit that I was serving with in 1999 came very close to being sent to the Kosovo crisis and had Slobodan Milosevic not made a last minute peace deal after a 70 day air campaign I am sure I would have ended up there.

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With my Boarding Team, April 2002 aboard USS Hue City

However it was 9-11-2001 that changed everything. I was in Camp LeJeune North Carolina with the 2nd Marine Division when the hijacked aircraft hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Shortly after those attacks I was transferred to the USS Hue City, a Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser. My first wartime deployment was in 2002 aboard Hue City supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch. On that deployment I served as an advisor to one of our boarding teams and took part in over 70 boarding party operations against Iraqi and other oil smugglers who were breaking the United Nations oil sanctions against Iraq.

We were in the yards when Operation Iraqi Freedom began and in the fall of 2003 I was assigned to the Marine Security Force Battalion. In my time at Security Forces I travelled around the world and often to the Middle East and Europe, but not to Iraq or Afghanistan. Because the elements that we sent to Iraq were too small to rate an organic chaplain I did not deploy with them, though I heard about the experiences of many of those Marines and Navy Corpsmen as they came to me for counsel when they came home.

Despite having spent time of the boarding teams and having deployed numerous other places in my career there were times that I felt like William Tecumseh Sherman, who missed the war with Mexico having been sent to California who wrote: “I have felt tempted to send my resignation to Washington and I really feel ashamed to wear epaulettes after having passed through a war without smelling gun-powder.”

In October 2006 I was assigned to Navy EOD Group Two and shortly thereafter my life which had been very active with more time spent away from home than with my wife since my call up in 1996 to support the Bosnia operation became much more complicated. While at EOD I was supporting very skilled sailors most of whom had deployed multiple times in the always dangerous work of defusing and defending against Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs, the signature weapon of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I also was called to support sailors either preparing to go to Iraq or Afghanistan as Individual Augments or those that were returning home.  As I heard their stories, especially those serving as advisors with Iraqis or Afghani soldiers I knew that was what I needed to be doing.

In early 2007 a call went out seeking chaplains to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan in various roles that were not supported by unit chaplains. With the permission of my supervisory Chaplain, Captain Deborah McGuire who was at the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command I put my name in the hat and was notified that I would be sent overseas. I explained to Judy that despite her misgivings that I felt that Nelson and I were the most ready, qualified and prepared team to take on the mission. Needless to say that did not assuage her fears and concerns and an emotional distance began to grow between us.

Initially we thought it would be sent to Iraq, then it was Afghanistan, and finally the first week of June 2007 the orders came down for Iraq. My faithful assistant, Religious Program Specialist Nelson Lebron would go with me. It was the first time that an existing Religious Ministry Team had been tagged to take on an independent mission of this nature.

Our orders were to support Marine Corps and Army advisors in Al Anbar Province, a mission that was new because when the advisory teams were first formed no one thought about organic religious or spiritual support. It was assumed that chaplains from nearby units would suffice but the Army and Marines learned that the assumption was wrong and that the advisors needed their own chaplain support.

The next few weeks would be a whirlwind as we prepared to go. They would be weeks that were trying both individually and for our families and neither of us would realize how much we would be impacted by our time in Iraq, but in June of 2007 that was still a part of our yet uncharted future.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Next: The Preparations

 

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Looking Back at 30 Years of Commissioned Service

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I was going to write about the situation in Syria tonight but that will wait until tomorrow because June 19th is the 30th anniversary of my commissioning as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army. That was a long time ago. I had enlisted in the California Army National Guard in August of 1981 at the same time that I entered the Army ROTC program at UCLA.

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California Army National Guard 1982

Like most of my life I can admit that my military career, 17 1/2 years in the Army and another 14 1/2 in the Navy has been to quote Jerry Garcia “a long strange trip.” It has been eventful and it is not over. One interesting thing is because I spent about 10 years of my career in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve in a drill status I still am able to serve, probably until I reach age 58 or maybe even 60. If so my career will span early 40 years. Judy tells me that she doesn’t think I will retire until I am 60 which would be just under another 7 years.  That being said I can still crush the Navy Physical Fitness Test. I am still in the game.

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Berlin Wall (East Berlin) 1986

It is interesting what I have seen and where I have served. My career began back during the early days of the Reagan build up during the Cold War, not long after the Iranian Hostage Crisis, which was the catalyst for me volunteering even though the truth of the matter was that I wanted to serve in the military since I was a child. I was a Navy brat, my dad was a Chief Petty Officer and I loved that life.

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Germany 1984

I wanted to join the Navy out of high school but my parents convinced me to try college first, which I did, meeting my wife Judy my freshman year at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton California. After that it was California State University at Northridge where I began the serious exploration of commissioning programs. I was actually accepted into the Air Force Program but turned it down, Judy told me that she wouldn’t marry me if I joined the Navy and the Navy ROTC program informed me that I would have to change my major to hard science, math or engineering to enter the ROTC program. So I asked who I could work with and they pointed me down the hall to the Army.

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Marriage to Judy 25 June 1983

That was the beginning. A long time ago in a galaxy far far away. When I was commissioned in 1983 this college history major was commissioned into the Medical Service Corps, the administrative and operational side of the Army Medical Department. That made a lot of sense, or maybe it didn’t but it did save me from a career as an Ordinance Corps Maintenance Officer or Adjutant General’s Officer Corps paper pusher, both tasks that the Army trained and assigned me to do as a Medical Service Corps officer.

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Company Commander 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) 1985

As a Medical Service Corps officer I attended my Medical Officer Basic Course, the Junior Officer Maintenance Corps, the NBC Defense Officer Corps, the Air Force Air Load Planner Course and the Military Personnel Officer course.

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Academy of Health Sciences 1987 with LTC Ike Adams who was largely responsible for redirecting my career and calling to be a Chaplain

I served as a platoon leader, company XO, company commander and Group level staff officer in Cold Wr Germany. I then served as the Brigade Adjutant for the Academy Brigade of the Academy of Health Sciences, where I also helped draft the personnel instruction regarding personnel infected with the HIV virus.

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Army Chaplain School August 1990 with LTC Rich Whaley and CPT Bill Blacky

I left active duty to attend seminary in 1988 and joined the texas Army National Guard, initially as an Armor Corps officer serving as the Adjutant for an Armored battalion, until the State Chaplain found out and demanded that I be transferred to the Chaplain Candidate Program which I entered in 1990. I was at the Chaplain Officer Basic Course in August 1999 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the war ended just before our unit was to be mobilized for service. Technically Chaplain candidates can’t be mobilized, but one of the full time Guard personnel technician Warrant Officers in Austin kept me on the rolls for mobilization purposes as a Medical Service officer. But like I said the war ended, I graduated from seminary and was ordained and became a chaplain in 1992. I completed the Chaplain Officer Advanced Course and after completing my Pastoral Care Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in 1994 took a chaplain job in Huntington West Virginia where I transferred to the Virginia Army National Guard and once promoted to Major transferred to a local Army Reserve unit.

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Exchange Officer with German Army at Panzer School 

That was a turn of events that got me mobilized to support the Bosnia mission in 1996 and allowed me to serve supporting a number of units and military communities in Germany. Upon my return to the states and no civilian employment I served as the final Federal Chaplain at fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania. When that assignment ended I went back to West Virginia.

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Mt Fuji Japan and Panmunjom Korea 2001

Just before Christmas 1998 I got a call from my bishop telling me that the Navy was willing to consider me for active duty. Remembering Judy’s admonition that she would not marry me if I joined the Navy I did it without asking her. Not a smart thing, she was quite pissed because had I bothered to consult her she probably would have said yes, but the way I did it devalued her. Likewise she was sort of looking forward to the time I hit 20 years in the reserves so she wouldn’t have to lose me all the time to the military.

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Korea DMZ PT Session

Long story short. The Navy took me and I took a reduction in rank to come on active duty. One day I was a Major in the Army Reserve and the next a Navy Lieutenant. I was given a choice of assignments. I wanted to serve on a ship. I was given the choice of Marines or Marines. So I chose Marines and after completing the Navy Chaplain Office Basic course I reported to the Second Marine Division where I served as the “relief pitcher” for the division Chaplain, whenever someone got in trouble or was transferred without a relief in place I went in like a baseball relief pitcher. I deployed with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines to Okinawa, Japan and Korea. I was at Camp LeJeune on 9-11-2001 and in December 2001 reported to the USS Hue City CG-66 in Mayport Florida deploying shortly thereafter to support Operation Enduring Freedom.

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USS Hue City Operation Enduring Freedom

In October 2003 I reported to the Marine Security Force Battalion (now Regiment) and travelled the world in support of those Marines, spending between 1-3 weeks a month on the road. That was an amazing assignment because it gave me a global perspective of the Navy Marine Corps mission traveling frequently to the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Guantanamo Bay Cuba and various locations in the United States. While in that billet I completed the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and my Fleet Marine Force Officer qualification and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. After that I went to EOD Group 2 and from there was sent to Iraq as an Individual Augment to support advisors to the Iraqi 1st and 7th Divisions, 2nd Border Brigade, Highway Patrol and Police in Al Anbar Province working under the authority of the Iraq Assistance Group and II Marine Expeditionary Force Forward.

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Iraq 2007-2008

I came back from Iraq in pretty bad shape but consider it the pinnacle of my operational ministry as a Chaplain that I would not trade for anything. Since I have written much about it I will not say more about it in this article. From EOD I was transferred to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and after being selected for Commander in 2010 was transferred to Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune as the command chaplain. This tour was as a geographic bachelor and every couple of weeks I drove back to Virginia.

Now in a couple of months I will be reporting to be the Ethics Faculty and Chaplain at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk.

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Various scenes top to bottom with General Peter Pace, teaching Marines at Normandy, with Secretary of State Madeline Albright 2005 Spain, with German office in Jordan 2007, Scottish Highlands with US Marines and Royal Marine Commandos 2005, Jordan River 2007, Belleau Wood France 2004, Guantanamo Bay Cuba 2003 or 2004

There have been highs and lows in my career and a few times that I thought that I wasn’t going to survive. But of all the things that I value in serving this country are the people that I have served with, Army, Navy, Marines and others including allied officers. I have met a lot of wonderful people, quite a few of whom I still stay in contact with despite the distance and years.

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With FAST Marines in Bahrain 2004 or 2005, Easter Sunday 2002 aboard USS Hue City and aboard USS Hue City with USS John F Kennedy CV-67 in background.

While I value my service in the Army, because it is a big part of my life I echo President John F Kennedy who said “I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.'”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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