Friday, April 25, 2014

Jerry Falwell Made Me a Democrat: Faith in the Military, Part 12

Among the many contradictions in my life, I am a Democrat.  That might not seem surprising for someone who grew up in Stoneham, Massachusetts, just seven miles from Harvard and eleven miles from Boston.  But both of my parents were Barry Goldwater Republicans.  My father served in World War 2.  My favorite uncle flew three combat tours and had three additional short tours in Viet Nam.  And I enlisted in 1972, less than a year after I graduated from High School.

Then, I became a believer.  Since I started my faith journey in a Baptist Church, I accepted what my Church taught until I had a reason to believe otherwise.  If there is one thing that is clear in a Baptist Church, it is that we are all sinners who need to repent.  Every week, every Baptist Church I ever attended has an Invitation to know Jesus.  Everyone who answers that invitation is told to repent of their sins.

In Germany, we had one channel of American TV, the Stars and Stripes newspaper, and Armed Forces Radio.  We got TV programs more than a year late.  The culture in America was remote and in the years I was gone, the American Evangelical view of politics and political action changed radically--at least it seemed so to me.

Among the gifts I received as a new believer was a subscription to the weekly Sword of Lord newspaper.  Before I left for Germany, Baptists tried to Evangelize Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholics and almost anyone else who was not a Bible-believing American.

When I came back from Germany, I read Machiavelli and got a very good primer on how politics worked.  Reading Dante, Aquinas and Sir Thomas More made me quite sure Catholics were part of the community of believers.

When I left for Germany, Evangelical Christians stayed out of politics.  Their hope was focused on the next life not on amassing power in this life.  Jerry Falwell changed that in 1979.  He decided that Christians needed political power and founded the Moral Majority.  The name itself is a flat contradiction of Baptist doctrine.  You can't make a Moral Majority out of sinners.

No reading of the New Testament can show Jesus either taking or recommending political power.  The Church would have power from on high, not from politics.  Dante's Hell is full of Popes and high officials of the Church.  They are not there because they are Catholic, they are there because they used pursued political power.  Falwell dismissed the lessons of the Reformation and two millenia of Church history when he decided to grasp the levers of politics.

Once it was clear to me that the Evangelical Church was going to sell out for power, I decided I would vote for the other party.  And in every election since that is how I voted.  The record of the right wing Church in politics is one of betrayal on both sides, but that's what any reader of Machiavelli would expect.

Although Falwell denied Original Sin to enter politics, he never ceased to call out the sins of others.  He blamed the attacks on America on 9-11 on gays.  Until his death, Falwell reminded me of why Christians risk their own soul when they grasp for political power and they certainly bring the Church into disrepute.  If someone tries to write a new Inferno in this century, Falwell, Pat Robertson, D. James Kennedy, James Dobson and many others will be roasting in the flames of that 21st century Gehenna.

"When we Christians behave badly, or fail to behave well, we are making Christianity unbelievable to the outside world."
-CS Lewis

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Faith in the Military: Reading Expands the Universe


In November of 1979 I left the active duty Army.  In January I started college at Penn State's Capitol Campus in Middletown, Pa.  The campus was a former Air Force Base and was set up for only for Junior and Senior years of college and graduate school.

Since I was starting in 2nd semester in a trimester system, one of the courses I took in my first semester was Western Traditions II, taught by Theodora Graham.  It was one of the two courses that most influenced my thinking for the rest of my life.  One of the first books we read was Inferno by Dante Aligheri, book one of the three-part Divine Comedy.  I was in love almost from the first page.  Dante created an entire world based on the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas.  The world was coherent, beautiful, terrifying and orderly from the very bottom of Hell to highest Heaven.  Dante wrote the book in the late 1200s in exile from his home in Florence, Italy.

Later in the semester I read another book by a Florentine political exile.  Niccollo Machiavelli wrote a short book on politics called The Prince trying to get back into the good graces of the prince who ruled Florence.  Dante gave his readers a tour of the cosmos and pointed to the wonder of Heaven.  Machiavelli never took his eyes off the Earth.  At about 70 pages in most translations, The Prince is an evening read and easily the most concise book on how to go to Hell every  written.  Machiavelli says the only job of a prince (leader) is to take power and keep power.  Otherwise the prince can do nothing.  And Machiavelli makes no recommendations as to what to do with power--only that it is the first goal of a prince.

I felt like a butterfly crawling out of a cocoon.  So much of the world made sense, in good and bad ways, through just these two books.  In the years since these two books have been at the top of my re-reading list.  I read The Prince every four years in January of the years in which we elect presidents.  Machiavelli reminds of the goals and the limits of politics.  

Currently, I am re-reading the Divine Comedy for the seventh time in a new translation by Clive James.  I have read The Prince nine times.  

And while I was in Heaven in Western Traditions II, the world seemed to be going to Hell and Machiavelli showed me just how that was happening.







Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Faith in the Military: Another Friend For Life




In 1979, I was assigned to the Wiesbaden Military Community Headquarters.  For the first few months of the year I shared a room with Air Force Sgt. Cliff Almes.  His discharge date was May 2, 1979, my 26th birthday.  He did not go home like everyone else.  On that day I drove Cliff from Wiesbaden to Darmstadt in my 1969 Renault TS with a 4-speed shifter on the column. 

Also on that day, Cliff began 10 months in the novitiate of the Franciscan Brotherhood at the Land of Kanaan in Darmstadt.  He later became Bruder Timotheus. He is still there. He is also an American so he fixes things at the monastery and for the last 15 years has been the network administrator for Kanaan Ministries. 


Every week from May until I left for America in November, I visited Cliff in Darmstadt.  I worked for the base newspaper at that point.  It was printed in Darmstadt so I volunteered to go to the printer each week.  I would have lunch at Land of Kanaan and eat with the novices.  Kanaan was created in the rubble of Darmstadt after World War 2 by two women who ministered to bombing victims during the war.  

Seeing these young men from all over the world training for a life of poverty, chastity and obedience opened another world to me beyond America.

Bruder Timotheus is another friend who I have kept in touch with and occasionally visited since our time together in Wiesbaden.  It is one of the stranger aspects of modern life that Abel and Cliff, two men I consider the best friends I have, are a continent and an ocean away in Germany and San Diego.  But the modern life that allows us to be so far apart also lets us keep in touch no matter where we are.  
Going to Iraq in 2009 was no interruption in our monthly phone calls.  

I visited Cliff in Germany twice in the past 15 years.  I hope to do it again someday.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

Faith in the Military: Never So Ignorant


All the reading I was doing and all the sermons I was listening to was making me feel pretty smart for a guy who never went to college.  Then the chaplain said, "You like C.S. Lewis' writing, why not read his autobiography?"

He loaned me a copy.  Next week I gave it back.  I stopped at page 13.  I did not even try to re-read the book until my senior year in college.  That book, more than any other book I had read (or tired to read) before or since let me know just how ignorant I was of history and culture I am a part of.

In Surprised by Joy Lewis writes about the shape of his early life up to the point of his conversion.  To tell this story he uses books and authors as short hand.  He explains none of the books and authors he mentions.  Why would he?  If you read the autobiography of an author who is the leading Medieval and Renaissance scholar of his generation, who would not expect books and authors to be the touchstones of his entire life?

Fifteen years later I created an index of the book for the New York CS Lewis Society.  In the 246 pages of text are 250 books and authors from Aristotle to Wordsworth, from Aeneid to the Well at the World's End.

In 1977, college was in my future, but my will to go was set.  So much of what I was trying to understand would be more understandable when I understood the culture I lived in.  When I understood and knew the great works of literature and of philosophy that were the context in which the Church grew.

The other thing that was becoming clear with my reading was that the founders of America, and every man or woman of learning from antiquity to now was multi-lingual.  One of the biggest gaps in my understanding of the Bible was not really getting the idea of how immensely far the modern English Bible is from Jesus speaking Aramaic and Hebrew in Roman-occupied Israel.  For thousands of years, serious Bible students learned Biblical languages.

So I signed up for a course in Biblical Greek from Fort Wayne Bible College.  My last year n Germany, I completed two semesters of Greek.  It was fun, but I was alone learning Greek until a German Jehovah's witness came to my door.  We talked for a while and I found out he was also learning Greek.  For the last few months I was in Germany, he was a regular visitor.  When he came over, we parsed Greek verbs and talked about the difficulties of translating Greek in to modern languages.  Just before I left he invited me to his wedding.  I had to leave Germany before the ceremony, but I was delighted he asked.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Faith in the Military: Friends for Life

In the middle of the picture above is Sgt. Abel Lopez.  This shot was taken in the Bravo Company, 70th Armor, motor pool in 1977.  We wore gas masks two hours at a random time every week. While we were masked we continued normal activity.  On this rainy day in Germany, normal activity included a Can-Can Dance.

And they are good.  I believe it is Gene Pierce on the left and Donnie Spears on the right of Abel, but I am not sure.

I listened to dozens of sermons and read books the base chaplain suggested.  Abel and I talked about everything we both were learning.  We were both trying to figure out what it meant to be a believer and what we should do to follow the Lord.  

C.S. Lewis said in his book The Four Loves that friends separated by time and distance will, when reunited pick up the conversation where they left it.  All through 1977 in the motor pool or in the field, when we had down time, Abel and I would start talking about prophecy, worship, versions of the Bible, books about the Bible, a sermon one or both of us heard, or a thousand other topics.  

In 1978, when I got assigned to Brigade HQ, the conversation had more interruptions, but it kept going.  In 1979, Abel finished his tour and went home.  Ever since we have talked about once a month, though sometimes circumstances keep us from talking for a few months at a time.  Thirty-five years later, we are discussing what we each read, where we go to Church, who we fellowship with, and should a Christian be involved in politics.  Less than a week ago, prophecy came up again when Abel and I talked.

One of the things that led me to re-enlist in 2007 was the hope of finding really serious believers to talk with.  I never met civilians who talk about faith the same way soldiers do.  

This series is clearly going past Holy Week.  I want to get to Iraq and I have not yet said how Jerry Falwell made me a Democrat.  I will get to that later this week.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Faith in the Military: Looking for the True Church in a Tank in Germany

The picture above is the commander's machine gun mount in an M60A1 tank.  Once I stopped looking for all the signs of the Tribulation, I started trying to figure out which Church I should belong to.  

When I went to a Baptist Church, they taught me the elect were only those who were saved by Jesus, but they strongly suggested that unless you knew how to ask correctly, you were not among the true elect.  When I joined a Charismatic fellowship, they said the same thing in a different way.  If you did not have the "Full Gospel" then you probably were not among the elect.  They were nicer, but also pretty much believed the Narrow Way to Heaven was through them.

I was uncomfortable thinking how many billions of people were going to Hell and I also thought some people who were sure they were going to Heaven were overconfident.  C.S. Lewis turned my thinking around with Mere Christianity.  Lewis said the elect were in every Church.  Those in every Church who were looking for the Lord and striving to do what He wanted were in every Church.  So the "True Church" was wherever believers gathered.  The false Church was right there in the same place because there were always going to be people in the Church for reasons having nothing to do with loving God and enjoying Him forever.

That was so liberating.  So the Church on the human level was just like every other organization including the Army.  In the Army we all knew who was a real soldier, who was a real tanker, and we very much knew who was not.  Every sports team is the same.  The real players and the posers are obvious to everyone.  

At this time I got a cassette player and headphones.  I started listening to sermons.  In particular, I listened to dozens of sermons by the evangelist James Robison and teaching tapes by Robert Mumford.  These two guys disagreed on a lot, but both gave me a lot of insight into the Church.  Robison was a stirring preacher, filling stadiums.  Listening to him, I got the fundamentalist culture in an entertaining way.  Mumford focused on the Holy Spirit in history and gave me a sweeping view of how the Church could begin in unity on Pentecost and become the crazy quilt of beliefs it is today.

At the end of 1977, my future career became clear.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

Faith in the Military: In Heidelberg Faith Goes to My Head

In 1977 I climbed into an Army tour bus for a free trip to Heidelberg, West Germany, to see the annual fireworks.

But I missed half of the event.  From the time we arrived, I sat on the bus reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  The base chaplain gave me a copy just saying he thought I would like it.  I was entranced.  I started reading the book on the bus and couldn't stop.  I stayed on the bus and kept reading while the other soldiers wandered around Heidelberg waiting for nightfall.

Reading this book I came to understand that learning and Christianity were not mutually exclusive.  I entered Christianity through the anti-intellectual door of the Baptist Church and started to wonder if being stupid was the best path to faith.  Taking the Bible literally makes many people suspicious of all learning:  science, philosophy, economics, literature, history.  And here was Lewis bringing every branch of learning together in service of the faith.

By the end of the Heidelberg trip, I was thinking of leaving the Army to go to college full time.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Faith in the Military: Pumped About Prophecy on the East-West German Border


The year of America's bicentennial, I was a proud member of Brigade '76, a combat brigade sent to reinforce the East-West border at Fulda, West Germany:  right where the experts thought World War 3 would begin.  We flew to Germany from Fort Carson, Colorado, at the beginning of October.  Within two days we were in our tanks and on the border rolling past Soviet tanks on the other side of the fence.

While we drove past the fence, the Soviet tanks tracked us with their main guns.  We were not allowed to be provocative, so our guns were pointed away from the border.  Our mission was to hold the advancing 250,000 soldiers for 10 minutes to give tactical aircraft time to fly to our position and destroy the advancing enemy.  At one of the briefings when this was explained to us, a young soldier asked the Colonel on stage, "What do we do next?"  

The answer, "Nothin' son.  You'll be dead."

One the plane over to Germany I read Hal Lindsey's book "The Late Great Planet Earth."  I became one of those prophecy nuts.  I and many other believers in our unit were convinced World War 3 would happen before our three-year tour in Germany ended.  And in any case, the world was going to end by 1988.  In the field and in the barracks, many of us had long discussions about the significance of every sort of symbol in the books of Daniel and Revelation.  

It was very exciting to have this kind of inside knowledge about world events.  At that time, as now, the people who took Revelation literally also took Genesis literally.  If you thought the world was ending in 1988, you also thought it was created at about 4,000 B.C.

And it was this fact that eventually got me out of the swirling world of prophecy and back into fellowship with believers who were trying to live in faith in the present, not fixate on the future.  Over that first year in Germany, I came to see that those who took the ends of the Bible literally were not naive literalists, but very sophisticated in their literalism.  The same people preachers who push literal interpretations of Genesis and Revelation have very sophisticated reasons ready to hand about why the difficult teachings of Jesus need not be taken literally.  The same person who insists he takes the Bible literally will dodge in a nuanced way the story of the rich, young ruler in the Gospel of Luke, Ch. 18.

"That is for a specific person in a specific time," is the standard answer.  Really?  If literal is your claim, wouldn't it be better to do as Jesus says and risk suffering?  By diving in the deep end of the literal reading pool, I got to see just how incredibly selective literal reading was.  I never found anyone who would or could take the Bible completely literally.  And the rule turned out to be, the less the literal reading interfered with your life, the more literal you were likely to read that passage.    

The following year at annual tank gunnery, I read the Bible through in two weeks waiting for fog to clear on the tank gunnery range at Grafenwohr, West Germany.  This time I read the Living Bible.  The vast difference between the King James Bible and the Living Bible led me to ask about the original.  Where did the Bible come from.  I knew that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek.  But I did not know that the all of the New Testament except Luke and Acts were written by men who spoke Aramaic.  They spoke and wrote Greek as a second language.  

So the people who were so crazed about taking the Bible literally, were trying to be literal with words that were spoken in Aramaic and written in Greek by Aramaic speakers, then translated into English 1600 years later.  

It was at this point that Abel Lopez and I started talking Scripture rather than prophecy.  Abel was the commander of the tank next to mine.  We switched from literalism to the splits within the Church.  On post was both a Charismatic fellowship and a Bible Baptist fellowship.  The Baptists were sure the Charismatics were going to Hell.  The Charismatics just thought the Baptists were wrong.  Both sides wanted Abel and I to take sides.

We learned a lot over the next two years.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Faith in the Military: I Switched to the Army, and Believed in my Tank




By re-enlisting in the Army, I was running away from God, or at least running away from the people who said they knew Jesus loved them.

I volunteered for Armor and became the platoon guide (student leader) at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  From the first day at Fort Knox, I liked the Army so much better than the Air
Force.  I was finally in the military.  We marched, we ran the obstacle course, and we had classes in tanks in the sun in July and August. 

Since I came to faith in America, not in a Muslim or Communist country, I did not know that suffering is one of the definite promises of Scripture. The Lord and the Apostles said suffering is a mark of faith.  And their example is one of intense suffering. 

It would be another year before I would find out there was a “health and wealth Gospel” and a few more years before I understood this was a perverse twist on real faith.  But the Army and leadership in the Army were teaching me the lessons I missed by not playing sports in high school. 

I never stopped believing during the year that followed, but I stopped learning about the faith.  I started learning about tanks.  The first year I believed, in 1974, I read through the King James Bible.  My first year as a tank commander I read through entire operators manual for the M60A1 main battle tank.  As far as I know, I was the only tank commander in the battalion who read the entire 800-page manual.  It worked out well for me.  At annual gunnery my first year as a tank commander we fired in the top 10% of the battalion.  It’s like shooting Expert with a rifle or a pistol.


In September of 1976, then entire 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division relocated from Fort Carson, Colorado, to Wiesbaden, West Germany.  In Germany, my tank became my job and my faith became vivid again.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Faith in the Military: Which Church to Attend?


First I was blind.  Then I believed.  Then I got my sight back.  I should have quit smoking right at that moment.  It was soooooo hard to light cigarettes when the slightest flash was blinding.  I had to flick the lighter and look out of the corner of my eye to get the cigarettes lit.

As my sight and use of my fingers returned, I had to get to the practical matter of going to Church.  I knew enough about faith from Collin that Christianity was not a solitary faith.  I had to commit to a Church, or at least start attending one.  The base chapel was not an option.  Then as now, whatever the military blesses as faith is what the old soldiers believe.  In the 1970s, the military chapel system was run mostly by priests and pastors from Catholic and Mainline Protestant denominations.

In a later post, I will talk about today's chapel system, but for now, I was not going to the base chapel.

Since I was in Utah, the biggest Church was the Mormon Church.  I went to a Baptist Church just off post.  It was founded by non-Mormons who worked at Hill Air Force Base.  In fact, the pastor of this Church believed his main mission beyond leading the Church was to convert Mormons to Christianity.

This may seem strange, but before 1980, most Churches, especially those that were theologically conservative, had a statement of faith that was central to their mission and membership.  Christians actually believed doctrine was a matter of life and death, at least spiritually.  After I read the Bible (King James, of course) the next book the pastor gave me was Walter Martin's The Kingdom of the Cults.

This book was an encyclopedia of the beliefs of religions other than conservative protestantism and was clear that most of these religions were heretical.  Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Bahai Faith, anything that used the name of Jesus, but departed from orthodox Christianity was a pathway to Hell.  Liberal Protestantism was also condemned as was Catholicism.  With this view of the world, more than 99% of the planet was a mission field.  Because pretty much everyone in the world was wrong.

Wow!!!  Being a Baptist was like walking down a slightly cone-shaped cave.  With every step the cave gets smaller.  By the time I finished The Kingdom of the Cults the number of believers in the world was huge, but the number of believers who knew the truth was tiny.  I, of course, was in the elect.  I was in a Baptist Church.

I could have settled in for a comfortable life of knowing I was one of the elect and most everyone else was not.  But then the cave got too narrow.  The pastor said Collin and all of his kind, Pentacostals and Charismatic believers were wrong too.  At that point, I did not know a lot, but if Collin my old roommate was not a Christian nobody was.

At that point I got out of the Air Force and my luminous faith went rather dim.

So I re-enlisted in the Army.




Monday, April 14, 2014

Faith in the Military: Having a Blast, Finding God




November 9, 1973, just after 9 a.m., I was connecting wires to detonators at a U.S. Air Force missile test site in Utah.  Someone turned on the power, and my world turned bright blue and white.  Several minutes later I was strapped in an all-terrain ambulance headed for the first of six eye operations that would eventually restore my sight.  Along with the eye operations, I had surgery to reattach two fingers on my right hand and to remove wires, screws and various pieces of metal from my face, arms and chest.
         
It was Friday.  I had planned to ride my motorcycle up into the mountains for the weekend.  My plans changed. On November 9, 1973, I woke up an agnostic.  

Before the day ended, I believed in God and a few months later, I went the whole way to become a Christian.  I would have preferred a smoother path to faith, but at 20 years old, I test-fired missiles for a day job and rode a motorcycle in mountains of Utah for recreation.  I was not inclined to listen to a still, small voice—blindness was the right size megaphone for God to announce His existence to me.

It would be a week before I could see again with one eye.  A month before both eyes could see again.





Sunday, April 13, 2014

Faith in the Military: Belief Begins with Missiles



With Holy Week beginning in a couple of days, I decided to write about faith in the military.

In general, the military makes more clear the muddy world of faith most people live with in America.

I joined the Air Force in 1972 an agnostic, not because I had any informed idea of faith, but because I did not know or care if I believed in anything.  Neither of my parents practiced religion in any form.  My Dad was Jewish.  My Mom was Protestant.

Early in our childhoods, somewhere around three years old, both my sister and I got about a month of religion.  My sister went to Church.  I went to Temple.  Then we dropped out.  My main religious instruction was the puppet show "Davey and Goliath" which aired on Sunday morning.  I watched that show pretty much every Sunday morning while my parents slept in when I was four and five years old.

Although I knew a lot of kids who went to Catholic School growing up, I never met an overtly religious person.  In the fifth grade, I got beaten up by Catholic boys who said I killed Christ.  I did not know the story of the Crucifixion at the time, but the Gospels seem pretty clear that Roman Soldiers nailed The Lord to the Cross, not a skinny, 11-year-old Jewish kid.

On my 12th birthday, my Dad started talking about getting me a Bar Mitzvah.  The rabbi in the local synagogue would not allow boys to read a phonetic Torah, so I learned enough Hebrew to recite my Torah passage reading from the Hebrew.

Then religion was over for another seven years.

I enlisted at 18.  After Basic Training and an eight-month technical school, I went to my first permanent duty station at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.  My roommate, Collin, was a 20-year-old who did not drink, smoke or smoke dope and professed no interest in sex before marriage.  He read the Bible every day, prayed on his knees and was really a great roommate--clean, quiet and gone a lot.

Not only was Collin religious, he was Pentacostal.  One Wednesday evening I went to his Church.  Wow!  For a barely believing, barely Jewish Bostonian, Pentacostalism was a circus.  I wanted no part of Collin's faith, but I continued to admire him as a person.  He took a lot of shit from everyone else in the barracks.  But I did not want to be him.  Faith was for old people.

Then November 9, 1973, I rode my 750 Honda to the missile test range at Hill Air Force for work.  We were live-fire testing interstage detonators for the Minuteman Missile that day.  At 9:30 a.m. I started my journey of faith in the blast room where we connected the detonators to our test equipment.

Friday, April 11, 2014

And Just That Fast the Adoption is Over

Wow!!

I wrote earlier this week there was one final chance to adopt Xavier.  That hope fell through.

Here is the story well told by Miser Mom.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Homework After 10 p.m.



I am sitting between my sons at 10:35 p.m.  They are doing their math homework.  They are doing algebra now and will be studying for a social studies test after that.  J is demonstrably yawning.  But earlier in the day, I allowed J to go to they gym for an hour while N had squash. In a further indulgence, we all watched an episode of "Alias" the show our family is currently watching together when we can.

The boys are currently in 8th grade.  Next year the work will get harder.  I don't know how often we will be up this late, but they really don't like doing their school work.  

When I am home every night next school year, I will be able to sit with them and make sure the homework.  I suppose if they had more "normal" parents they would have an more sympathy.  But with a Dad who loads his iPhone with language apps to parse French verbs and study Greek vocabulary, they don't get much slack on studying.  And Mom stays up at night writing papers that advance the field of projective geometry.  They can't even whine about math or Mom might break into a five-minute explanation of how beautiful math is.  






Monday, April 7, 2014

Life Coming at me Fast--Faster Than I Thought

Maybe not THIS Fast. . ..

We got a message from Haiti tonight that it is possible (MAYBE) we can adopt Xavier after all.  All the indications up to now had been negative, but a ray of hope came through tonight in the form of an letter from a Haitian attorney who really seems to know what is going on with the case.

If we decide to retain her and make this one last attempt to adopt Xavier, I will be using some of my vacation in the next couple of weeks to travel to Harrisburg, New York and Washington to get the required paperwork notarized, apostiled (a special notarization) and certified by the Haitian consulate or embassy.

I had already planned to stop working full time and become a consultant/writer for my current employer.  That will mean I work a lot less, but more importantly I will work at home.  I will no longer be commuting to Philadelphia.  I will work at home and take care of the boys.  In addition, I may be doing whatever paperwork is necessary to get Xavier here to America.

I thought the change would begin June 5 when I go to Army Annual Training.  But it turns out I will need to use or lose my vacation and personal days before June 6, so I will be in Philadelphia much less than I thought while I use all the vacation I saved up to take care for the boys this summer.

Last week I thought my new life was coming slowly into focus.  Now it is happening a lot faster.
It should be interesting.

More Pictures of Friends at the Aviation Ball


April Burka and Chad Hummel.  
Chad supervised the motor pool in Iraq and is one of the full-time sergeants in Echo Company.

Capt. Carina Roselli, Chinook pilot, and Maj. Frank Tedeschi, Apache pilot.
They both served in Iraq in 2009-10.  Every drill I tell Maj. Tedeschi a stupid joke.  
He actually likes my jokes!!

 Sgt. 1st Class Wayne Perkins and his wife.  Wayne was in charge of the fuelers in Iraq and runs fueling operations here in the states for the Aviation Brigade.

Sgt. 1st Class Matt Vidas and his wife.  Matt is the full-time training sergeant for HHC 2-104th.

Col. Scott Perry and his wife Christy Perry.
Scott commander 2-104th Aviation in Iraq.  He is currently the U.S. Congress from the 4th District of PA and commander of Fort Indiantown Gap.  He came to Hershey Lodge for a charity event and found the Aviation Ball.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Aviation Ball Photos: Some of my friends from 28th Aviation.

Yesterday I got the memory chip back for my camera.  So now I have photos from the Aviation Ball.  I posted a lot of them on Facebook already.  Here's a few more.

Kate and CW4 Darren Dreher
 Every time I see Dreher he says, "There's my favorite Liberal."

Sgt. 1st Class Melanie McCracken and her friends.
She said our deployment to Iraq was, "All drama and no action."


1Lt. Andrea Magee and Staff Sgt. Mike Machinist.
Andrea and I worked in battalion headquarters in Iraq.  Mike was a Chinook flight engineer in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Sgt. Jordan Bannister, HHC
Led the Color Guard at the Aviation Ball, was PA NCO in Kuwait.

1st Sgt Eddie Beadle and Capt. Jason Lehr, commander and first sergeant on the most recent Chinook deployment.  Also served together in Iraq.
Capt. Hugh Denny, my current company commander, and his wife, and Capt. Israel Miller, my current boss, the brigade public affairs officer.



Friday, April 4, 2014

My Wife Says This Story is Creepy

WARNING:  My wife read this story and said it was too creepy for a family blog.  It is a story I wrote about what I thought might happen if our base was attacked.  It is fiction.
One way I will be making the transition out of the Army is to begin writing stories set in the places I served.  In this story, Camp Adder, Iraq, gets attacked, which never happened during the time I was there.
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I died happy.  The bullet tore through my neck, sliced my aorta, and severed my spine. I grabbed my neck and tried to scream, but the scream in my head was just gurgling in my throat.  The men around me just saw me slump to the ground.  No sound from me.  Just the single shot that ripped the air and the hollow thunk as the round tore through my throat and spiraled through my chest.

I stopped breathing right away with all the blood in my throat.  I was dead as soon as my body hit the ground and brain dead as I bled out on the Iraqi tarmac.  The AK-47 round broke the titanium plate that held my neck together.  The neurosurgeon that had put in the plate said if I got hit by a Humvee that plate would hold the last three vertebra in my neck together.  He didn’t say anything about an AK round.

My last tour ended when the Blackhawk crashed and I broke my neck.  I left that tour on a MEDEVAC to Germany.  This time I would go home in a body bag.  No agony this time.  If I have to die, I am glad it was fast.

My soul was on its way to Purgatory.  Would I be there in a second, a minute, hours, who knows?  Time was smearing. I am not supposed to believe in Purgatory; I am a Presbyterian. But belief makes no difference here.  We think we know who God is when he is far away, like a star light years away is just a shining circle in the sky.  Here you know there is someone in charge.  Someone powerful and real.  Someone close, but mysterious too. The corpse bleeding out at the Camp Adder west gate is starting to seem like someone I used to know.

I can’t say any more now.  The OPSEC rules are tight in eternity.  But I can see the place I died.  The gunner on our MRAP armored truck is swinging the turret looking for something, someone to light up.  The rest of the squad is down at the gate or behind the berm looking for the Hadji motherfucker who killed me. 

I can’t tell anybody, but the little bastard is 200 meters out buried in the dune.  He knew this would be a suicide mission.  His Momma in Nasariyah is getting $2000 for this. Now he is out there with his gun under belly, stone still having seventy-second thoughts about getting his virgins. 

The Apaches are up.  If the little fuck can stay still he might last till morning.  Sergeant Blewell is on the radio.  Major Tedesco is in the lead Apache.  Blewell is cold furious about me being dead.  Not like I am a teacher’s pet or anything but she trained us and she was waiting for us at the gate. Now this little fuck dropped one of her boys and there ain’t no way she will sit still for that.

The gunner on the MRAP sees something on the dune 200 meters southwest of the gate.  Tracers slam into the sand.  The Apaches swoop down from their scan toward the impact zone. 

Nothing.  Minutes pass.

Then fifty meters right of the MRAP gunners aiming point, Hadji loses his nerve and bolts.  Tedesco and the .50 cal gunner both see the kid jump.  Three steps later he is vaporized by 100 machine gun rounds, as many 30mm cannon shells from the lead Apache and the rounds from a half-dozen M4s. 

Sergeant Blewell emptied the magazine from her M4.  As soon as the Apaches pulled up Blewell started running toward the body—or the smear.  “There better not be a piece left of him bigger than an ant’s asshole,” she said as the nearest fire team looked at each other then ran after her. 

The three men grabbed her by the arms and the vest.  “You know you can’t go out there Sergeant Blewell,”  the team leader said.  “They’ll bust your ass to E-fuckin’-nothin’.”  She struggled, but she knew they were right.  And she was NOT going to get dragged back.  She turned and walked back to the gate in the last light of the dirty sunset.

I was gone.  I was being pulled up so high or far or something that I could not tell what was happening. 

Then I was on my face in the dirt.  I picked up my head and saw a brown face in front of me.  He was lying on his belly too.  By the look on his face he had no more idea where he was than I did.  I could swear I knew this guy, but he looked like an Arab GQ model.  How would I know a dude from an airbrushed magazine cover? 

Then I knew who he was.  He was the vaporized little fuck that killed me. 

And I knew at that moment that we whatever we were going through we were going to be partners.

Shit!!!

Going to heaven is supposed some kind of family reunion with rainbows and unicorns and shit. 

Fuck.  It means I have to love the little shitbag who shot me. I knew this eternity shit would have a catch.

He smiled weakly and reached toward me with a dark, open hand. 

We grabbed each other’s hands.  They were real hands.  We had bodies. 


A mountain loomed in front of us. I knew we had to go.  I think he did too.