Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Most military personnel I've met who find out that I came into the Army with no prior service, practically in my dotage, ask me how this happened. I ask myself the same question, pretty much constantly.

I love the family and friends I am now so far away from. I love living in a place with a fairly temperate climate all year around. I love my job in the department where I received my doctorate. I love being close enough to the ocean to be able to go SCUBA diving if I can get the time away and a buddy to go with.

I love having the ability to jump on a plane, if need be, to link up with family and friends who are in the midst of some crisis or other. I love running around the country giving weekend retreats to people who are recovering from addictions of one sort or another, or recovering from the family consequences thereof.

I really love free-lancing doing priest-things on weekends and weekdays, in various parishes, all over the place.

Now I find myself far from home, and family, and friends. While the weather at this moment is quite nice, actually, this place could hardly be counted as having a temperate climate! There's nowhere around where I am to go SCUBA diving (at least recreationally).

When Mom had her back surgery, and Elaine had her cancer surgery, and Aunt Pat got so sick -- and then died -- there was no way to jump on a plane and just show up. I've not given a weekend retreat in a long time, because it wasn't fair to tell a group I'd do the retreat, only to have to cancel down the road because the Army had put me on temporary duty that weekend. (I've done a lot of temporary duty since getting commissioned.) I miss the folks at St. Thomas Aquinas (all three sites), St. Cyprian's, St. Bartholomew's, etc.

All of this 'missment' is not a surprise. I knew what I was signing up for when all this began three summers ago.

Whenever I find myself marveling at being in Iraq, wearing body armor, going outside the wire, and asking myself, "Self. How did this happen?", I always focus on my gratitude to the women and men in my life who are veterans or still serving in the military.

I think of my Dad, who was branched Field Artillery after he completed ROTC in the 50s. When I was commissioned, he pinned the only Captain bars he could find from his time in the service on the lapel of my BDUs, which I wore specifically so we'd get by with just one, rather than a pair. The BDUs are no longer authorized for wear, but I have saved that set because my Dad's rank is still on the lapel.

I think of my cousins George, Cathy, and Mike, who represent the Army, Navy, and Air Force (not a real service), respectively. [Before you give me all sorts of grief, just know that I'm constantly giving Mike a hard time about that, as he gives me a hard time for joining an outfit which guarantees that I'll NOT be sleeping in a bed with clean sheets, more often than not.]

They all served during the Vietnam conflict, and have amazing stories to tell. I know I can never live up to George's multiple Bronze Stars with "V" devices and his Silver Star; I hope I don't get to join him in the Military Order of the Purple Heart! Mike has become one of my greatest supporters -- and challengers -- and his experience, strength, and hope have seen me through a lot.

I think of my Dad's neighbors Joe and Andy, who served during World War II. Joe was a Captain in the Army, and he gave me his Captain bars for my dress uniform. What an incredible gift! Andy and his wife take really good care of my parents, who definitely need looking after!

I think of Ken and Paul who were Cadets back in the 80s when I was teaching in the midwest. They went on to serve with distinction into the 90s. Ken's struggles in the face of the constant pain he suffers from now, as a result of his military service, fill me with fear and awe.

I think of the Cadets of the All For One Battalion, and the grief they gave me for being a "leftist hippie" (which was, of course, true). I think of Saffar, RANGER and RAKKASAN, who adopted me as his "Dad" -- with so much reason not to have done so. He had the highest tolerance for pain of any human being I've ever met, and doing his funeral was almost as tough as doing my brother's a couple years earlier.

I think of Jason and Jonathan and Mason and Kael and Justin and Matthew and Brian and Lindsey and so many others who have served so well, at and such a great cost.

I think especially of Sam, Jason, Dan, and Patrick, whose love and support have come to mean so much. Words do not adequately convey the debt of gratitude I owe them. Carlos has become like family to me.

I think of 1SG B, who served here in Iraq in both Desert Shield / Desert Storm and in OIF. "Top" has become one of my closest friends and continues to square me away, even from far away. I think of Top from HHD in my first Battalion in the Guard, and all of my friends from that unit whom I miss so much.

I think of LTC K, LTC F, and LTC C who mentored me with such care, even though I didn't come close to being under their command. The first LTC C took me in under her wing even before I was in uniform.

I think of LTC W whose powers of persuasion and example, coupled with those of MAJ S, served to woo me into the Guard and keep me there when the going got tough.

I think of SFC McG, who's away on a mission without me, but who's in very good hands in so many ways.

I think of SPC C and SGT M at their outpost, and of CPT M, Roy E, SPC T, and SSG L who are trying to stay sober over here, and of all the Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Airmen, DoD Civilians, and contractors I've met since putting on this uniform, and I am filled with gratitude that in some small way (smaller than I'd like, that's for sure), I might be able to be of service to them.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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Marne said...

A very happy Thanksgiving to you, Fr Tim. We had our fall retreat last weekend, and I am sending you much love and good wishes and prayers from your "family" at the Chico retreat.
I'm including my own personal prayers for your safety and gratitude for all you've given me.
And simply, thank you for your great service. May HP love and watch over you.

Anonymous said...

Leftist hippie and a priest? It sounds to me like you are an

JIm said...

Fr. Tim,
Are you wrighting a book about your thoughts, transformation, experiences?

Anonymous said...

I know it might be difficult to remember, but your Bro -in-law served in the AF. He volunteered for the service and served unselfishly 5 years - 3 overseas. While he never saw combat, he did participate in the search and recovery of the aweful plane crash in Panama in the '80's, and as dispatcher delivered a baby! Mary

cptdrfrtim said...

Mary -- Sorry about that! I guess I was more rattled by the rocket that obliterated a CHU forty paces from mine earlier that evening than I'd imagined. Next time I'm writing after we've just been attacked, I'll try not to be so discombobulated!!

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