trust betrayed

Thoughts and prayers to comfort the grieving and hurting members of the U.S. Navy family, residents of Pensacola, and the nation are needed today. A terrorist opened fire at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida on Friday, 6 December, killing four and wounding many. The killer was dispatched.

Apparently, the deceased was a Saudi national receiving pilot training. And a terrorist. As part of international alliances, agreement, and cooperation between militaries, the United States placed trust in the government of Saudi Arabia that their personnel were their “best”. That trust was betrayed today. At the cradle of Naval aviation, and in a part of the country I know well from years spent during my Navy career. The responding Sheriff’s deputies, Naval security forces, and military personnel acted admirably, and were wounded in the process of saving many lives today. May they receive the care and healing that our best can provide.

There will be another time to process this barbarity. And my hope for America and all those who oppose acts of savage barbarism, is that we can find that Love covers over a multitude of sins. Hatred has no defining color or nationality, religion or language, but it festers many places under the guise of “tolerance”. For today and perhaps tomorrow, let us cease being divisive about religion, politics, social status, whether rich or poor, and let us honor the victims, grieve with the families and be united in purpose.

Ask the Chief: getting help with substance abuse

As a veteran, retired Navy Senior Chief, parent, and member of my church community, I have seen friends, shipmates, comrades-in-arms, and family members struggle with mental illness and substance abuse. While the social ignorance and stigma Post-Traumatic Stress sufferers once faced is fading, the number of veterans suffering PTSD, TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), and ailments from exposure to toxics in the combat theater is a huge problem. In addition, every other condition that veterans encounter from financial issues, divorce, job losses and health problems exacerbated by their service, can compound depression, feelings of isolation and a tendency to substance abuse. Even with a support network of friends, pastoral counseling, and veterans community organizations, professional help in the form of treatment centers and follow-up care, is available for those who are ready to be helped.

One potential source of professional help is found in south Florida. The Recovery Village (844-359-9732) offers a full range of behavioral health treatment and support, for veterans as well as the civilian community. From their website, the following are their core beliefs:

  1. Anyone can recover from addiction
  2. Each client deserves respect and compassion
  3. Addiction is a disease that deserves evidence-based care backed by research
  4. The physical and mental causes of addiction should be addressed simultaneously
  5. Recovery is a lifelong journey that requires daily commitment

Additional information on addiction, substance abuse, questions and help a veteran’s friends and family may wish to provide can be found here.

NOTE: This information is provided without regard to the suitability or efficacy of the programs offered through Advanced Recovery Systems, floridarehab.com or drugrehab.com. No compensation was offered nor sought in providing these resources to veterans or the public through this blog.

promises to veterans and other prevarications

More than one hundred years ago, satirist Mark Twain called out statistics as just another fabrication people use to make a point. Everyone but perhaps, bureaucrats, understand that statistics are misused to appear to support whatever position people want them to hold. But sometimes they do have a role. A statistic I read earlier this month indicated that TEN THOUSAND people turn sixty-five every DAY in the United States. As a military retiree whose last period of service was in the Navy Reserve, the milestone I finally reached this year – was turning sixty. I have a lot of company.

While most are rolling their eyes or stifling a yawn at this point, I ask for your patience for another minute. One of the promises that the United States Government makes to men and women who serve in our military, is to care for them, particularly with health care, and financially compensate a veteran should she be injured as a result of service. For those who make the military a career, the Government promises to provide retirement pay. But as any reasonable adult knows, the Government bureaucracy, whether it one is seeking a drivers license, a building permit, a legal restraining order, or applying for military retirement pay, is a labyrinth of processes and procedures, and delay. While I am personally affected, I wondered what the scope of the issue might be with fellow veterans NOT getting what is owed to them.

From published figures, some 0.4 percent of all Americans have served in the U.S. military. Out of a United States population of approximately 300 million, that might be a total of 1.2 million American veterans living today. For the sake of argument, if 0.4 percent of the 10 thousand people turning 60 daily are veterans, that is four hundred every day. Another statistic reports that fifty percent of living US veterans were Reserve or National Guard member. If only 5 percent of those reservists or Guardsmen served for at least twenty years and retired, twenty “gray area” ( what the Navy calls eligible military retirees prior to age 60) apply to their respective military departments for retirement pay – EVERY DAY.

apply early

Twenty years or so after most Active Duty men and women complete their careers, retirement pay paperwork is processed by military pay offices and by most accounts, is automatically forthcoming. However, the fact is, in 2019, a Reserve or Guard member who should receive retirement pay, has to apply to the military branch to start the process. Pay is not automatically processed. Worse, the military department processing retirement cautions that the member should apply at a minimum ( in January 2019) eight months prior to the eligible month one turns sixty. The retire is cautioned to submit verification of all their service time (“point capture”) to correctly calculate the retirement benefit.

The Navy PERS-912 website displayed a notice in August 2019, that requests received in JANUARY 2019 were being processed at that time. A couple calls to the Navy, of hour-plus wait times, finally indicated that records had been forwarded to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) for payment. At no time during the application and ensuing wait, did the Defense Department reveal that there was an additional backlog (delay) in processing records once the DFAS received a retiree pay claim. It took a visit to the local Congressional representative’s office to learn that the Government had many of the staff processing these sort of pay matters RETIRE without planning for their replacement, and no additional personnel were being hired in 2019.

I wonder if these retired civil servants have to wait more than a year for their check from Uncle Sugar?

“Golden years” or “Fools Gold”?

The idea of outliving my money scares the hell out of me. But worse, would be to have a chronic health problem, and being unable to get the help needed to maintain a “quality of life”.

Unless the United States becomes insolvent, a military retiree or a combat veteran will not go without some social or health services. Being eligible to obtain certain benefits or services, however, is not a guarantee of actually receiving aid. If the person seeking benefits does not have an advocate- either a relative or some knowledgeable case worker – the system may never actually connect the need with the claimant. In recent months, a veteran who had been eligible, for decades, for a benefit – and had not received it – was compensated by the Veterans Administration with back pay. This was a significant boost in that veteran’s access to healthcare and standard of living. In another case, a combat veteran, with a heart condition, received lifesaving surgery, and when his deplorable living conditions were investigated, received a stipend and moved to suitable housing.

Recent requests for aid from an elderly family member, not a veteran, living thousands of miles away, highlighted a similar dilemma. Care is available, but several conditions including a debilitating nerve disease, a passive nature, and the anonymity of living in a huge city complicate matters. Yet, with services and people available to render support, a mentally-competent person, elderly civilian or veteran, has to voluntarily accept assistance. In this instance the relative refused it.

As a veteran, a retiree, and having a close network of family, friends, social and civic organizations, I will unlikely face the prospect of outliving aid. For many though, without “connection” and proper planning during a person’s working life, post-retirement “golden years” can be disappointing “fools gold”.

Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexels.com

true faith and allegiance

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

Oath of Enlistment (1960), US Code Title 10, Sect 502

The military oath of enlistment began what might well be my longest relationship. It’s how I identified myself for years. Who am I?  I’m a Sailor. My service in the military was less of what I did, and more of who I was. I spent a total of 26 years in a Navy uniform, in stages between 1977 and 2010.   I enlisted while in high school and, after graduation, went to bootcamp in San Diego. I traveled the world and eventually ended up back in San Diego which is, apparently, where God wanted me.

Navy, San Diego, RTC, recruit
Seaman Recruit, RTC San Diego, 1977

support and defend

The first half of my military career, which encompassed the first twenty years of my adulthood, were spent fighting for recognition, and getting frustrated when I didn’t seem to get any. I had many brushes with greatness that never seemed to pan out: a Congressional nomination to the Naval Academy in the last year of my first enlistment but had some medical issues that disqualified me. Ten years later, enlisting after a break in service, I initially qualified for enrollment to the Defense Intelligence College but they never enrolled a junior enlisted man before. And nearly ten years later, I was THIRD FLEET Sailor Of the Year (SOY) (1997) but I didn’t make the Selection Board for Chief.

Looking back at those days, I was working overtime on me, for me, and making it about me. Selfish, self-centered, and trying to compensate for growing up in a dysfunctional family. I poured myself into working hard and being a people-pleaser. I was becoming a very negative person, with my personal life full of problems.   I lost touch with my family. I rushed into a marriage that quickly ended in divorce. Spending money foolishly, I was bored, very unhappy and very lonely. 

true faith and allegiance

Over the years, people had been inviting me to church and I kept saying no,  or saying yes, but then not going. But things changed in 1997. I was invited to church by not only one of the guys on my ship, but also from a couple of singles on a date at a coffee house.  Within a few months I studied the Bible and was baptized at an afternoon devotional service for church members across the San Diego region, much to the surprise of my shipmate. The day I got baptized, he came up to say, “What do you think I’ve been inviting you to all this time!”

Suddenly, life had more meaning. It wasn’t just about me anymore. It was about finding a gratitude for what I’d been given. God surrounded me with great examples of Godly men to help me live for something besides just myself.  I was able to connect to the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice and realize how much more there was to life, when I was able to look beyond myself.  

Senior Chief and family, USN Retired

My career in the Navy took off and I was picked up for Chief and then Senior Chief. I was a better leader because of being a disciple of Jesus. I listened to, and applied, the advice of Godly men, of military mentors, and friends who told me the truth.  I was able to meet the needs of my unit because I could actually see the needs of my unit, not just my own needs. Jesus gave the ultimate example of giving it all for others. The gratitude that I felt for that gift made it easier to give of myself to those around me that needed help.  It continues to motivate me to this day. 

Life changed dramatically after I was baptized. The woman from that coffee house date who shared Jesus with me became my wife. I took on three unruly preteen boys, a task I never would have been up to without God. I completed my Navy career in 2010. And I recently left my civilian job to work alongside my wife. 

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

Romans 5: 1 -2 (NIV)

This scripture in ROMANS, speaks to me as a veteran as I do not have to live for recognition,  but model Jesus for others. It’s the same basic system as the military, in modeling servant-leadership to others and helping them rise to their potential.   As a disciple of Jesus, it is helping others to become better service members, employees, better husbands, wives, fathers, mothers or children, and better people by being more like the example of JESUS. 

so help me God

Being a Veteran is still a large part of who I am.  I’m proud of my military service and everything I learned in the Navy.  I’m grateful, however, that God found me while I was still in the service. The military gave me opportunity. Jesus gave me the example of selfless service. God gave me the gift of bringing both of those things together to enable me to have a great second half of my military career. 

Click here to watch/listen to veterans of the Gulf War, combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a military spouse share about challenges during deployment and offer encouragement during our Veterans Day service. Ed. note: there was some recording noise that periodically interferes with the YouTube video quality.

Fire power- less

Modern society is in dire need of survival training. Since the same power company’s failures resulted in wildfire, now the danger in California is mitigated by shutting off power to millions.

Last Sunday, five of us on an annual guys trip to Yosemite, found the region’s power shut down. In emergency- generator- fed light, we bought groceries (but the meat was gone) and luckily generator- supplied gasoline for our near- empty car. After entering the park and driving an hour farther on, the park halted all tent camping for safety concerns. We decided rooms in a darkened park lodge, for a “reasonable” rate, certainly beat sleeping in the car.

Monday morning, camping opened, we set about to sound what we came for. Roughing it. Hiking. Relaxing. Though the park was without power until Tuesday, we noted that the two most- visited lodgings, Curry Village, and the Ahwani hotel, with generators running, had hardly been affected. Our traditional camping game of Mexican Train carried on that evening in the back room.

Well, there were casualties during the great California wilderness blackout of 2019. A chipmunk got into the car Monday morning, smelling a leftover scone- and closed in for about an hour, tore around the formerly gently- used vehicle. However, no lives are lost in the process of getting it out.

Three men and a little trail mix coaxed the varmint out. And we coaxed the car’s owner off his varmint hunt with a long hike. However, the little beast is still an unwelcome breakfast guest.

When the snow does come to the valley, i am quite sure that the deer and bears will be hunkered down, employees will be snug in their quarters, the at least one fattened chipmunk may have a warm Honda- fiber lined den under a bear- box in the Upper Pines campground.

Bears are no match for these thieves