Giving thanks

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a camping tradition

Every November,  my friends and I go (tent) camping in Yosemite National Park before the first snow.   All of us are members of the same church in San Diego, but more than just “members”, we all make an effort to be united as Brothers, in Christ.  This is more than just a Sunday worship service,  or playing a game of Mexican Train together in a warm room of a Yosemite Valley hotel.  We have each others’ back and watch out for each other.

While my spiritual brothers and I share a bond of common faith,  it is not the same as the brothers – and sisters I have served alongside in the military.   For twenty-six years, I wore the uniform and swore my allegiance to serve the Constitution and nation against all enemies foreign and domestic.  And through several conflicts, long deployments, and looking out for families while others were deployed in war zones,  all were responsibilities my peers and I shouldered.  Many of us spent holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries away from loved ones.

While we give thanks for all the blessings we have in this life,  these do not come without responsibilities to act justly, practice gratitude,  give generously,  and to treat others with respect.   As military veterans and patriotic citizens,  we are also compelled to stand against those who would tear down what we have worked – some at the risk of bloodshed – to preserve.

So on this Thanksgiving holiday,  I think of all that my family has been experiencing this past year.   I have gratitude for my God, and my fellow veterans and their families.    Whether we are serving together now in the army of Christ,  or served ( or still serving)  in the uniform of our country.    May you have a safe and joyful holiday.

 

Armistice Day, 11 November

In many countries,  the eleventh of November is remembered as Veterans’ Day, the day honoring military veterans of all conflicts. However, many hold it as a day of remembrance and not a public holiday.  A century ago, this was the day the Allies and Germany signed the armistice ending World War I.  The Armistice went into effect during the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.  The Treaty of Versailles signed in 1919 formally ended hostilities.  

What do you hold as the most valuable “thing” in your life?  More to the point, what is worth risking the exchange of your life or health:  Ideas?  Reputation?  Property?  Human rights and dignity?  The lives of your loved ones?   Man has been fighting and dying for millennia over territory, religion, and to fight for, or to prevent someone else’s desire for power and conquest. In the last century, the world went to war to prevent genocide, to oppose totalitarian rule, and to secure ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ – ideals enshrined in America.   When a continent is plunged into war as Europe was, in 1914, by the war machine of the Kaiser,  or in 1939, when Hitler’s Germany annexed its neighbors and started to systematically enslave and exterminate people,  alliances called up armies.   For the last eighteen years, the premeditated attack upon civilians against the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the fear generated by using commercial aircraft and hostage passengers as weapons motivated several nations to rise against them.  Sadly, military men and women, ours and the nationals being trained still bleed and die in ‘suicide bombings’ by agents secreted among them in Afghanistan and elsewhere.  For a century and more, the attack upon civilians, whether the sinking of passenger liners by Germany in the First War, or civilian and military targets at Pearl Harbor in 1941 or on 9/11 propelled our nation to defend our citizens and the right to freely travel and trade abroad.

On Veterans’ Day, we remember those who sacrificed their future for ours.   Many of those who recognize and remember loved ones particularly on this day have stories to tell.   And as far as I have learned about my forebears, in almost every generation I have so far traced,  a young man – or in the last half-century, woman relative – has served as a soldier, sailor, or marine.  A hundred and some years ago,  the War to End all Wars,  World War I, was raging in Europe.  And one of my distant relatives,  a young man in his late teens, gave his life in a bloody battlefield in Belgium.

Edwin Blow Kertland,  was the nephew of his namesake, one of the Blow family in what is now Northern Ireland. The Blow family whom I trace one branch of my maternal ancestry, for nearly three hundred years had been merchants and businessmen.  In Britain, for hundreds of years, the gentry passed property down from eldest son to eldest son. The younger sons were apprenticed to learn a trade and make their fortunes, some went into ministry, and others into the army or went to sea as crewmen on merchant ships.

Edwin Kertland went into military school and earned a commission in the second decade of the Twentieth Century.  An assassination and political alliances plunged the world into war the resulting scale of carnage – in toll of lives – still sets a painful bar.  Nearly seventeen million people,  ten million military and seven million civilians died, and another twenty million were gravely injured as a result of the conflict.  The war pitted men serving the Kaiser and their allies against other Europeans, the British Empire and Americans. Poison gas, mechanized artillery (tanks), aerial bombardment (aircraft), trench warfare, and other weapons technology changed the efficacy with which men can harm each other.  Along with millions of youthful Britons, Frenchmen.  Americans, Russians, Germans and their allies, the horror of war killed him.  He was nineteen.

To the cynic there is no solution to the periodic hatreds that flare between people, and prudently,  they prepare, train, and arm themselves to protect home and homeland.  And there will be those who are willing to put on the uniform of their nation to defend against tyranny, or more personally, to defend their comrades fighting alongside them in the trenches.

Florida’s Panama City, torn apart by Hurricane Michael, now managed by 2-star Army general

Your post-military career can be a refreshing change of pace,  or an opportunity to put everything you have ever done to use,   testing of your faith,  and the hopes and dreams of your neighbors and friends, right where you are needed. 

via Florida’s Panama City, torn apart by Hurricane Michael, now managed by 2-star Army general

 

 

Haze gray memories

All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.
~John F. Kennedy , Newport dinner speech before America’s Cup Races, Sept. 1962

I have never learned to sail a wind-driven vessel, nor do I recall the difference between a sloop and a ketch. That said, it does not mean I have no familiarity with ships, storms, life aboard ship, or the special bond that seafaring men (or women) have as a crew at sea.  For eight years out of a twenty-six year Navy career, I was a member of ships company, on a Virginia-class cruiser, a Spruance -class destroyer, and a converted amphibious transport dock-turned-command ship (for the U.S. THIRD Fleet).  I have spent months at sea repetitively in the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, Mediterranean,  and Caribbean Seas.  Perhaps the readers of this blog, merchantmen and military navymen (and women) have also looked upon Naples, Italy with Mount Vesuvius as a backdrop in the early morning.  As a Petty Officer on a ship that was one of the very first Navy visitors after forty years of the Cold War,  made port in Varna, Bulgaria. On deployment to enforce blockade of Saddam Hussein’s illicit oil trade after the Gulf War, transited the Suez Canal and made circles in the Red Sea. Like the apostles of Jesus two millennia ago, I walked the streets of old Jerusalem, visited Cyprus and Crete, Turkey and Greece.  Gazed upon the ruins of ancient seafaring civilizations four thousand years old.   I’ve ridden trains on a day’s liberty time as a Pacific Fleet sailor between Yokosuka and Tokyo, Japan,  and as an Atlantic Fleet one from Marseilles to Paris, France.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.
~John Masefield

A man I have known casually for years at a place I have written about many times, Liberty Tobacco, a cigar lounge in San Diego, California, is another Old Salt.  We both have long careers in the electronics industry and worked at some of the same places in San Diego.   But tonight we learned that we have been to the same places underway on ships,  and to shore stations around the country.  Twenty-five or thirty years ago is a long time in an age where, in a social media-world, memories last minutes or perhaps hours till another attention-seeker replaces them.

We shared memories of the school buildings for our respective Navy trades being across from one another on the shore of Lake Michigan.  We were assigned to electronics schools ( perhaps five years apart) at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago.  And we both have been through the fire-fighting trainer in Norfolk, Virginia. This is a large complex of buildings built to resemble shipboard compartments where fuel-oil fires are set ablaze.  Into the heat,  dense smoke, and real danger, crews are trained to combat them,  and to become familiar with all the tools and roles needed to fight and preserve a ship.  At sea, there is only your shipmates to keep your vessel afloat.

Other memories of putting to sea on your first ship get dusted off and refreshed while talking.   The times standing watch on the ship’s Quarterdeck in the middle of the night alongside the pier in Italy, you can chuckle about the garbage barge alongside – with something moving (not human) in the shadows.  Or noting wharf rats the size of cats rooting around a dumpster in the dark at the head of the pier. And realizing what “rat guards” on your mooring lines are designed to block.

Memories of winter rain in Panama that will soak you to the skin in minutes.  One of the wettest places on Earth,  the year-round rain recharges the waters in the Canal Zone powering the locks on each end of the Isthmus.  Swapping stories of liberty visits in ports ten time zones away from home that are extended to a month when a casualty occurs.   For one it was the ship’s screw (the propeller, in civilian-speak).  Without a shipyard and drydock, this enormous thing had to be replaced underwater by specially-trained teams.  For the other,  when a gas-turbine engine has to be flown from the USA and replaced in the Netherlands Antilles.  Due to a prior transit in a freshwater river in the Northeast USA, killing the built-up marine growth – and then immediate transit to the Caribbean resulted in the cooling inlets for that turbine being choked by dead organisms and engine destroyed by overheating.

The sea speaks a language polite people never repeat. It is a colossal scavenger slang and has no respect.
~Carl Sandburg

While some of my friends have experienced sea-sickness on a harbor ferry in San Diego bay, and worn the medical patches when first putting to sea on cruise ships and small frigates,  these aids may become unneeded when accustomed to life at sea for months at a time.   With merchantmen and Navymen, the camaraderie of sharing shipboard stories,  having weathered hurricanes and strong gales in the mid-Atlantic and off the western coast of Mexico transiting from the Panama Canal, the memories seem only days old instead of a quarter-century.   My shipmates and I have marveled at the  different colors of ocean water, the patterns of currents, bright sunshine and placid seas turn gray-black and stormy within hours.  I’ve been concerned for brightly color birds alighting on our ship as we leave port and then been still there twenty miles to sea.  Crossing the Equator and the International Date Line,  as a Navyman I have been both Pollywog and seasoned Shellback during the traditional ceremonies of the “Shellback Initiation”.

And some of the other ‘initiations’ like standing a first watch on the bridge – learning to always check your binoculars handed to you,  especially at night.  Some salty Bosun’ mate (Boatswains mate) may have first smeared a little shoe polish in the eyecups.   Or being especially vigilant while  manning instruments and reporting conditions during underway replenishment.  Any sailor will acknowledge the gait at sea is unique, an adaptation to simply performing your duties while the ship rolls in heavy seas.   Huge waves breaking over the bow of your ship become commonplace.  Watching a smaller vessel in your group seeming to disappear in the trough of the waves and then pop up as the waves crash by.  While performing maintenance on deck, looking out and seeing a small sailboat, manned by an individual sailor, pass alongside hundreds of miles from shore.

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. Jacques Yves Cousteau (brainyquote.com)

For the many who are serving or have served honorably in uniform, we have a bond that few understand.  For those who have spent several months, several years, or a working life,  at sea, we have another strong bond that years and decades later we recall clearly.   Perhaps it is indeed the stirring of the salt in our blood,  the sea spray on our skin,  and the experience of working together in times of routine,  in danger and in emergencies when we all realize just how we are and will always be, Sailors.

[quotes, except where noted, via writebyte.net ]

Leaders lead not persecute

A story I heard today set my jaw, got my dander up, and got me to thinking what sort of incapable hands, and I am speaking of the enlisted Navy khaki community – have my Brothers and Sisters in the CPO Mess (Retired) left behind?   In recent years, story after story of accidents,  improper behavior (fraternization) and issues with ships, aircraft and installations continue to be reported.   The Navy’s top enlisted Sailor, the MCPON, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, resigned due to allegations of improper leadership this year.   And I heard today that a Sailor, who happens to be a career top performer and a person who shares my faith (and a member of my congregation), is being allegedly PERSECUTED by the unit CPO Mess for  (allegedly) sharing values with another sailor.    Honor? Courage? Commitment?

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honoring the WWII sacrifice of 4 chaplains

I have to wonder what has happened to the Navy I served for twenty-six years.  For as long as people have put to sea, spiritual beliefs have gone to sea with them.  For the last two centuries, members of a faith community have been guaranteed the freedom of expression, worship, and other rights, as well as equal protection under the law.  I certainly understand that everyone is entitled – and in the military particularly – to believe whatever they want to believe – as long as the mission and the team performance are not negatively affected.  A conscientious objector in charge of a weapons system is not expected.  A polygamist or adulterer is not expected to respond to policies that define conduct  which brings discredit the unit.   A person with addiction, particularly to alcohol or prescription drugs, is not the model of reliability in a moment of necessary quick response or judgement.

A search online on the topic of faith and military duty will reveal articles that support that servicemen and women of faith make better and more capable members.  And there has been at least one who was convicted at courts martial for refusing to obey orders to remove a display of religious quotes in her workplace.  That conviction was based in part on disobedience to a lawful order, and failure to demonstrate that she had taken all the proper steps via the chain of command to remedy her particular issues.

In the case of the Sailor I heard about today, I know that conduct was not the issue.  Disobedience and disrespect of a shipmate was not the issue.  If good people of faith,  technically capable and ethically sound, are forced out of serving in uniform,  then the nation as a whole suffers.  I do not expect all members of the military to share my Christian faith, nor even to have a belief in a supernatural Deity.   But I have known men and women in positions of responsibility whose conduct and attitude demeaned their peers and subordinates.  Some of those subordinates chose to leave the service at the end of their contracts.

fb_img_15287322881111Honor. Courage. Commitment.    Leadership in the armed forces of the United States is a privilege.  And respecting the spiritual beliefs of capable, ethical, and valuable members of the team is but one trait that an exceptional member of the Chief Petty Officer Mess can impart.