Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Just Win, Baby!

I’m just one person, but I’ve spent a good number of years in our nation’s military. With all the talk today about “troop withdrawal,” “getting out of Iraq,” “bringing the troops home,” “cutting our losses,” etc., I thought I’d throw in my two cents worth.

Americans are winners. They have a long history of taking on the tough tasks and finishing the job. The world is a safer place today because America has stood up to the bullies in the world.

As a kid growing up I was short – shorter than most of the guys, and definitely shorter than all the girls. I was continually harassed about my size by girls and guys. I could tell you about many of those instances as if they had happened yesterday. In eighth grade I was five feet tall. My father had started me doing pushups every morning and every evening from the time I was twelve. I’d put on some muscle despite being “vertically challenged.” One guy in the tenth grade never let up on needling me. He was five feet, eight inches tall. One day during lunch break I’d had it. He spouted off about my size loud enough so everyone in the quad area could hear. I knocked him down, then sat on his chest, pinning his arms to the ground. He fussed and fumed, but could not get me off. After a minute or so, he relaxed. So I asked him, “Are you done?” He said “Yes.” So I let him up. I never had another problem with him.

A couple of things came out of my taking action against this guy. I never wanted to mix it up with him for two reasons: 1) He was older and bigger and I figured I’d get my face kicked in, and 2) His sister had a crush on me, plus she could beat up any guy in the school. But until I confronted this fool, I was always walking around school fearful of getting beat up. I did not enjoy being intimidated like this. Once I stood up to this particular bully, everyone else left me alone. I could finally relax and enjoy each day free from fear and intimidation.

In a lot of ways the world situation is much like the school yard. Instead of guys walking around huffing and puffing, trying to intimidate smaller, weaker guys, you have nations looking to gain an advantage over a neighbor nation either by fear or intimidation.

Suppose you were prescient, and could see into the future. The year is 1918. "The Great War,” or what would eventually be known as World War I, is coming to a close. The allied forces have beaten the Kaiser. Your unit has just rounded up a bunch of German soldiers. You have been selected to stand watch over them in a confined area. You see a young enemy soldier, weak and cold, so you offer him a blanket and a cup of coffee. As he stands there with the blanket wrapped around his hunched shoulders, gripping the hot canteen cup with both hands, you ask him where he’s from in Germany. He’s responds that he isn’t from Germany. He’s from Austria. So you ask his name. “Corporal Adolph Hitler,” he replies. Now, remember! You can see into the future. What you see horrifies you. Over the next twenty years this man becomes a madman! He will be responsible for the death of millions of innocent people. Your M1911, single-action, semi-automatic .45 caliber military issue pistol is in its holster inches from your hand. And the scourge of all Europe, Adolph Hitler, is at your mercy, two feet away. What would you do?

Hitler moved into a position of power in Germany after the war because there was a dearth of leadership. The rule of the Kaisers was effectively over. New young bloods sought to restore Germany’s honor among the nations. Hitler stepped into this leaderless vacuum. The rest is history, and it isn’t pretty.

America is the leader of the free world. We have the financial muscle and the military might to change the world. However, we have been, and must continue to be extremely judicious in our use of these assets, lest we become a bully to the world.

Who are the real bullies in the world? Nations that make threats and actually take steps to arm themselves in order to bring harm to America or her erstwhile friends. Such rogue nations are always a danger and should be regarded as such. When these nations choose to play the role of the school yard bully, someone needs to step in and rearrange their nose.

Appeasement with bullies does not work. It has never worked, and never will work. America had best take care of business in Iraq, Afghanistan, and anywhere else when bullies act stupid. Our military is quite capable of taking care of al Qaida and the Taliban, or any other thugs for that matter. After serving in our nation’s military thirty-four of the last thirty-nine years, I have a pretty good grasp of what our military can do. That’s not my concern. Instead, my concern is the attitude here at home, especially the appeasers, routinely evidenced by certain government officials.

As a Vietnam veteran, I am loath to see our nation lose its nerve in the midst of another war. Every time we had the North Vietnamese by the throat they would cry, “Peace talks!” And of course, we let them off the hook. Never again! You defeat your enemy so they can’t ever hurt you again.

So just win, baby!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

To Vote, or Not to Vote

We’re half-way through summer with the Democrat and Republican National Conventions mere weeks away in August. Another way to look at this is we are one hundred and three days before the presidential election (as of the printing of this article).

Some of you may be thinking, “Who cares?” Others are saying, “My vote doesn’t matter anyway.” Still others say, “I don’t like either candidate.” These are typical comments during an election year. Regardless of the attitude you have toward our election process, it is worth noting that voting is one of the great privileges we enjoy as Americans.

Now, I will grant you that this particular election year has been mercilessly long. Candidates began running for office shortly after the mid-term 2006 elections. We have been subjected to a seemingly endless presidential campaign. We have been reminded of what the issues are by the candidates and their lieutenants until we’ve become numbed by the monotony.

Allow me to address the attitudes above. The “Who Cares?” crowd should remember that by not caring, by not participating in the process of choosing our leaders, leaves the decision to others. Future generations yet born rely on you and me making reasoned decisions. We owe it to them to be on top of the issues and to make informed choices in the ballot box. Sloughing our civic responsibilities will not impress anyone – particularly the next generation. After all, they’re watching us right now to see what’s important to us. What message are you sending to them?

Then there’s the “My vote doesn’t matter anyway.” Au contraire, my friends. Please take note of the very close elections in recent history. In 1960, Senator Jack Kennedy narrowly defeated Vice-President Richard Nixon for the presidency. It has been said that Nixon, because of the slim margin of victory for Kennedy, could have demanded a recount. Kennedy had 49.7% of the popular vote to Nixon’s 49.6%. Kennedy clearly won the Electoral College vote, 303 to 219. In 2000, who of us will ever forget this presidential race where Vice-President Al Gore won the popular vote (48.38% to 47.87%), and Governor George Bush won the Electoral College vote (271 to 266)? Now that’s close! Remember: Your vote counts – every time!

Then we have the folks who say, “I don’t like either candidate.” Okay, fine. I understand that sentiment. But it isn’t simply whether you like the candidate, or agree with their position on the issues. Instead, you should vote for the person who is most closely in line with your views, more specifically your world view, and who will make decisions that will best benefit our nation. When entering the voting booth (or filling out your absentee ballot), it is also important to remember that there are countless federal, state, county, and city offices that are to be voted on. Then there are the various bills from the senate and the house to be voted on. There are votes for judgeships (depending on state laws), who might one day be appointed to a higher court by the then sitting president.

Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons for voting for the presidency has to do with the Supreme Court of the United States. This august body of judges is hand selected by the president to serve on the U.S Supreme Court – for life! Because of the advanced age of these justices, usually two or three of the nine justices will either retire or die during an administration. The vetting process for new justices is intense. Vetting is subjecting somebody to a careful examination or scrutiny, especially when this involves determining suitability for something, such as, in this case, a judgeship on the U.S. Supreme Court. These judges have already made a reputation for themselves in their chosen field, so they are not young when they are selected. They then must meet the approval of the United States Congress. Once so honored, they will serve for life on the highest court in the land, interpreting law that will often have a direct effect on you and me.

As you might expect, a sitting president will likely choose a judge who bears a close resemblance to the philosophical/political position and leanings of the president. This, by deduction, means the decisions on interpreting the law in future cases will be judged with this mindset. With only nine members of the Supreme Court, a 5-4 majority will frequently determine what is to become law. The Court in 2006-2007 addressed seventy-two cases. Of that seventy-two, twenty-four were a 5-4 decision. Put another way, one-third of decisions made by the Supreme Court for that year were decided by one vote.

A case in point is the April 18, 2007 decision of 5-4 upholding the ban on partial birth abortion. This was originally passed by Congress in 2003. President Bush’s appointees, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., played a critical role in upholding this ban. The lives of countless unborn babies were spared because of this narrow decision. President Bush selected justices who would honor the sanctity of life.

So, is it important for you to vote? You bet! It is a right that all Americans have. Never forget that the right to vote has been earned at a price – the blood of patriots. When you vote, you honor their sacrifice.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How Big is God?

I’ve been thinking about this question for the past several weeks mainly because I was invited to join our Junior Jammers on a weekend retreat. The focus of the weekend was to consider the size of the universe and where we fit in the grand scheme of things.

During the weekend with the 4th-6th graders, we showed two DVDs focusing on the enormity of creation, not just our universe. There are, for instance, billions of stars in our universe of which our sun is one of the smaller ones. That in itself is mind-boggling. Now factor in the reality that there are billions of universes and everything becomes exponential, expanding and increasing in number that makes your head hurt!

If the earth was a golf ball, our sun would be fifteen feet in diameter. If the earth was a golf ball, there’s another star, Betlegeuse, which would have the diameter of six Empire State Buildings. The height of the Empire State Building is 1,453 feet, 8 9/16 inches. Multiply this times six and you have 8,721 feet, 3 3/8 inches. Or, for those on the West Coast, it is the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, 8,981 feet. The largest star known to man is the Canus Majoris (Latin: Big Dog). If the earth was a golf ball, the diameter of Canus Majoris would be the height of Mount Everest. Mt. Everest is 29,035 feet, or slightly more than three Golden Gate Bridges! Another way to look at this would be to have you stand back far enough so you could see the entire size of Canus Majoris – up against which the earth would not be visible.

Okay, perhaps you’re having a hard time wrapping your brain around this bit of information. I can understand that. We have learned a great deal through the lens of the Hubble Telescope which is orbiting the earth constantly sending back amazing pictures for scientists to study, learning new things about our “neighborhood” every day.

I have always been intrigued by the statement in the Bible that says, “God decided how many stars there would be in the sky and gave each one a name.” (Psalm 147:4). Now, after discovering the billions upon billions of stars that we know exist, not to mention those stars and universes we have yet to discover, this idea that God has given each one a name is staggering to the extreme!

Now let’s consider the concept most people have of God. If he exists at all, and that’s something many people seriously question, then he’s old and senile in much the same way we humans age. He’s no longer in touch with what is happening here on Planet Earth. But is this the image the Bible gives us? Hardly!

In the very first book of the Bible, Genesis, we are told that God created the heavens and the earth. More than that, he spoke all things into existence. “Because of our faith, we know that the world was made at God's command. We also know that what can be seen was made out of what cannot be seen.” (Hebrews 11:2). Let’s put that another way: he willed them into existence. He did not snap his fingers. He did not take a god-sized handful of matter and create everything. He didn’t even lift a finger. He simply said: Make it so! Why? Because God ordered it to be so. He is that kind of powerful God.

Some might ask why God made so many galaxies with their billions of stars if we can’t even see them without the aid of a telescope. Why indeed! Since man was made in God’s image and likeness (characteristics, not physical appearance) then we have the same creative desires as God. Look at what man is capable of building! A telescope orbiting the earth sending magnificent pictures back down to earth. The Bible says God made all these things for his good pleasure. And on top of that, he made these things for us to enjoy.

Paul writes in the book of Romans that, “From heaven God shows how angry he is with all the wicked and evil things that sinful people do to crush the truth. They know everything that can be known about God, because God has shown it all to them. God's eternal power and character cannot be seen. But from the beginning of creation, God has shown what these are like by all he has made. That's why those people don't have any excuse.”

So let me ask you – Have you stopped to recognize God’s amazing creation? You are no accident of nature. God declared in the book of Jeremiah that he knows us even before we are formed in our mother’s womb. He knows everything about you. Do you know him, and how special you are to him?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What is a Patriot?

A patriot is any individual who loves his country and is devoted to the best that it has to offer the world.

Mention the word patriot and any number of names come to mind: George Washington – the Father of our Country; Thomas Jefferson – the author of our Declaration of Independence; Benjamin Franklin – the sage who through wisdom and wit helped guide this new nation in the early days; and Patrick Henry – speaking the immortal words, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” The list of notable patriots is endless.

But what of patriots who are not as well known? How about Betsy Ross? You remember that she was commissioned to sew the first American flag. What of Crispus Attucks? He was the first person killed which ignited the American Revolution. He was a runaway slave who was shot and killed by British soldiers on March 5, 1770 in what became known as, “the Boston Massacre.”

What about Sarah Franklin Bache? This daughter of Ben Franklin, called Sally, hardly rates a footnote in history. Yet she and the “Ladies Association of Philadelphia” worked diligently to raise money for General George Washington and his Continental Army. Sally took over this organization in 1780 and was responsible for raising in excess of three hundred thousand dollars for the war effort. No small effort even by today’s standards!

There’s another patriot by the name of Molly Pitcher. She was what was known as a “camp follower.” Typically these were the wives and children of soldiers, trudging along behind the army offering their assistance by washing clothes, cooking meals, rummaging through dead bodies after a battle to recover useful items for a desperately needy American Army, and any other needed jobs that would keep them close to their husbands. Molly Pitcher’s husband was a cannoneer, killed in battle. Realizing the gun crew was left short-handed, Molly rolled up her sleeves and helped man the gun, which helped turn back the enemy assault which won the battle.

Perhaps my favorite story is of Johnny Clem of Civil War fame. Johnny left his home in Ohio in 1861 to join up with the 3rd Ohio Regiment, but was refused. He then attempted to enlist with the 22nd Michigan that was passing through. Again he was refused. Not to be denied, Johnny became a camp follower, doing the odd jobs necessary for camp life. He eventually became a favorite of the men and even was paid $13.00 a month out of the officer’s mess. He fought in many battles, receiving several wounds. At the end of the war he stayed in the Army, eventually retiring as a major-general (two stars) in 1916. What makes this story about Johnny Clem so interesting to me is that when he left home in 1861 to join the Army – he was nine years old!

A patriot therefore must be ever diligent in seeing that their country is presented to the world in the best possible light. Let me clarify what I mean. Proverbs 14:34 states emphatically that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” A true patriot loves righteousness and hates sin.

As a Christian and a patriot, what should be my responsibilities?

Allow me to offer some suggestions that I believe are fully supported by Scripture.

1. Always speak the truth – even when it hurts! It’s rarely popular to be a voice of reason in troubled times. But I believe history and all of heaven look favorably upon those who stand for righteousness and call sin, sin.

2. Never give up the fight for godliness and holiness! It is a truth that God honors those who honor him. Make every effort to be his disciple, his ambassador, in pointing folks to salvation in Jesus.

3. Live the two greatest commandments: Love God, and love your neighbor! Make this your life goal. Jesus says you are light and salt in the world. By living like this you cause others to glorify God.

4. Pray! God will hear from heaven and heal our land. Lord knows we need it!

You may not think of yourself as a Patrick Henry, or a George Washington, but these men were patriots who were also Christians. They were above reproach and God honored them. God still honors those who honor him. Ours is a nation worth fighting for.

God bless America! Happy 232nd Birthday!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Passing the Baton

My vacation journey now moves from Newport, Rhode Island to Corea, Maine. The reason I was in Newport was to visit two young men that I had commissioned into the Navy Chaplain Corps in the past nine months: Jason Ulven and Mark Torres.

The process for becoming a military chaplain is daunting, to say the least. There is a pile of paperwork that must be completed without error, and then there are the interviews with various military folks who then must give their okay for you to continue. Then there is the need for a specific level of education (Masters in Divinity) for you to even be considered. And obviously, a candidate for the Chaplain Corps must meet the physical requirements.

Shortly after I returned from the current war in 2004, I was asked to mentor Jason through a program used by Fuller Theological Seminary. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Jason had previously served four years in the Navy as an enlisted man. As we spent time together I asked him if he’d consider the Navy chaplaincy. We met one evening so our wives could talk, giving Jill, Jason’s wife, an opportunity to ask my wife, Isaura, questions about military life.

Last summer Jason and his family moved to Chicago where he is completing his seminary training. It was about this time that all of his paperwork was completed for his being commissioned. So in early September I flew to the “Windy City,” meeting the Ulvens at Great Lakes Naval Base. We stood on the shore of Lake Superior where I officially swore Jason into the Navy Chaplain Corps.

As for Mark, I was asked last December by a Navy recruiting officer, LTJG Matt Galvin from the San Francisco Bay Area, to meet with Mark. Mark and his family live near Lemoore Naval Air Station in the Central Valley of California. My family and I were going to be in Fresno (45 miles from Lemoore) later in December for a friend’s graduation from nursing school, so I made arrangements to meet with Mark while I was in the area. Though Mark did not have any prior military experience, he was very motivated and has kept himself in excellent physical condition. Later in January he and his wife Jody, met Isaura and me for dinner at our home so the ladies could, once again, talk about military life.

Both Jason and Mark began their official training at Naval Base Newport in May. Since I was going to be passing by on vacation, I stopped in, arriving a couple of days before they graduated from ODS (Officers Development School) which is specifically designed to prepare staff officers to be naval officers. Basically, it works like this: Line Officers are command officers. Staff Officers serve in support of command officers. So doctors, lawyers, chaplains, dentists, nurses, supply officers, etc are all staff officers. ODS introduces them to the regimen of military life.

Now that Jason and Mark have completed ODS they will begin the Chaplains Basic Course, which is an orientation course for Navy chaplains providing ministry in the “sea services.” This could be the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard or Merchant Marines. This course of instruction is also in Newport. Once they are done, they will be assigned to a command somewhere around the world.

I must say that visiting Newport again where I began my Navy chaplaincy twenty-four years ago, and seeing Jason and Mark doing so well, was very gratifying. On Friday, June 20, there was a wonderful military graduation ceremony on the athletic field on base. The four platoons of one hundred and fifty-nine graduates marched in with all the pomp and ceremony befitting such an occasion. You should have been there!

Jill was committed to a church denominational event, so was unable to attend. However, her mother, Joyce, drove down from her home in Vermont. Jody flew in from California for the ceremony. We sat together and enjoyed the hour long event. At the conclusion, after the new staff officers were officially dismissed, the guests gathered on the field to wish them well.

As I complete my time in the military this September, I’m pleased to pass the baton on to Jason and Mark and the many others I met that weekend. They will be the next generation of chaplains to provide for the spiritual needs of our wonderful men and women in the military.

May God bless them as they serve our nation’s finest, and may God bless America.