Two years ago I knew I was going to be called back to active duty. As the Command Chaplain for the First Marine Expeditionary Force Augmentation Command Element (I MACE), it was just a matter of time.
When I reported to the First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) Chaplain’s office at Camp Pendleton, California in November, 2002, no one knew what was to come. Readily apparent was the reality that the Marines were preparing for war in Iraq. All the Humvees, howitzers, and new 7-ton trucks were rolling off the base to San Diego for shipment to Kuwait where we were staging for our invasion of Iraq.
During those days in late ’02 and early ’03, we were planning for all possible contingencies, including serious losses should weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) be used against us. With such weapons, there are no longer “front lines” as we once understood that term.
Now that I’m home, I want to personally thank many of you for the wonderful words of encouragement you have offered to me during these last two years through cards, e-mails, and notes. I was also reminded Tuesday night that there were people praying for me all during my period of active duty. I was visiting the Golden Valley Chorus for the first time since I returned home, and was pleasantly surprised by several of these barbershoppers who told me they prayed for me every day.
The “Welcome Home Ceremony” at Stouffer Park on August 15th was simply overwhelming. What a wonderful gift to receive from the folks of Ripon. Family and friends made the trip to Ripon from all over Central California. My wife’s brother, Tony, traveled from Utah, and friends from Portland coordinated their trip to be here for that weekend.
As I have been getting around town to visit so many of you, I can’t begin to tell you how good it is to be back home. Ripon is a wonderful town! I stopped by the Police Department last week to pay a call on Chief Dick Bull. Before leaving two years ago, I was serving as the chaplain for the department. I saw so many of the same officers I’d known previously, plus some new faces. Everyone was so kind to me. It’s good to be back as their chaplain again.
I dropped in to see Sharon Buzzini in her shop, Fabulous Finds, on Main Street. George, and son Tim, welcomed me back to the Jack Tone Golf Course. Of course, I stopped in to see Russ Owen at REO Espresso, admiring his wall commemorating our men and women in uniform. I always enjoy chatting with the regulars that hang out there. It’s always a pleasure to get a hair cut at George Rocha’s shop. I stopped in at Schemper’s Ace Hardware to pick up a few items, and was comforted to see the same folks still working there.
Over the years, I’ve met folks who grew up in small towns and couldn’t wait to get away. Too bad. The major complaint in growing up in a small town is that everyone knows your business. I respond by saying, “If you’re not doing something you’d be ashamed of, what’s the problem?”
Thomas Wolfe, the writer, said, “You can’t go back home again.” Well, I’m back home, and Ripon is still the great town it has always been. I’ll be looking for you.