Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Islam - Part 1

Over the next week or two I intend to take a look at the beliefs of the Muslim faith, also known as Islam. For many Americans, this is a belief system that is totally foreign to them in a number of ways. What little they do know about Islam mostly has to do with terrorists, coupled with the current upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East.

I want to state up front that I am not intending to attack Muslims personally, but instead to point out the differences in Islam as compared to other faiths, particularly the Christian faith, the faith I adhere to, and which I also find antithetical to Islam.

As a Christian I want to say to any Muslim who may read this article that they are just as much loved by God as any other person or faith group, and that Jesus Christ came to save each and every one of us from sin and death by dying on the cross and rising again. This is why Christians celebrate Easter – Jesus rose from the dead – defeating both sin and death. Now that’s hope!

Many people today are very uncomfortable even talking about the Islamic faith because they aren’t sure if this will cause them to be a target of some sort of hate crime or retaliation. When cartoon caricatures of Muhammad stir up violent reaction from Muslims, and the cartoonist’s life is threatened with a fatwa, folks see this as a topic that is best left alone. I like the way author Ron Carlson put it in his book, “Fast Facts on False Teaching,” in addressing the topic of Islam. He writes, “Please understand that in a Western country, where the freedom of religion and freedom of speech are constitutional guarantees, we have the freedom to discuss, consider, and think about religious issues. We have the freedom to say what we want and write what we want. That freedom to think and to act for ourselves is vitally important, and is a major difference between our culture and faith, and that of Islam.”

The Islamic faith is complex and deserves to be carefully studied if we are going to understand why they believe what they say they believe. This is not an a priori statement that assumes acquiescence to Muslim teaching. There are numerous terms that are unfamiliar to non-Muslims that the media use freely in their reporting, but that does not take the time to explain, or more likely, that does not have the ethical standard to explain these terms truthfully.

I can come at this subject from a number of different angles, so bear with me as we peel back some of the layers and take a more careful, thoughtful look at a religio-political force in our world today that breathes threats against anything that opposes their beliefs, real or perceived.

There are many excellent books and articles that have addressed this religion which I will recommend during this series. Next week I will begin by delving into the Five Pillars of Islam which are the five duties required of every practicing Muslim. They are: Profession of Faith; Prayer; Charity; Fasting; and Pilgrimage to Mecca. This is at the core of Muslim faith and practice, so it is essential to our understanding of this faith to take time to review these acts which are required acts of devout Muslims.

I intend to present this faith in as even-handed a manner as possible. Obviously, my faith beliefs are diametrically opposed to Islam, but to quote again, author Ron Carlson, “In a western country . . . . we have the freedom to discuss, consider, and think about religious issues.” That is what I intend to do.

Hope you enjoy the journey!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Art Linkletter put it best: Kids say the darndest things!

I thought I might share some of my favorite quips spoken by our 3½-year-old granddaughter, Alyssa Grace. Her mom is our oldest daughter, Laura. During the course of a week, Laura often text messages several priceless remarks that Alyssa has made. They will be listed by topic in this article.

Headache: Here’s the most recent of Alyssa’s gems: Laura was trying to rest, suffering from a migraine, so she tells Alyssa, “Mommy has a headache.” Alyssa looks at her mom and says, “That head right there?” After Laura finished laughing, she said, “Yup! That’s the only head mommy has.” When I read this as a text message from Laura I was walking from my car across a parking lot. Well, I stopped in my tracks and just laughed out loud! I’m sure people around thought there was something seriously wrong with me.

Golf: Another comment the other evening, seemingly coming out of nowhere, was this discerning bit of insight. Alyssa announced to her mother, “When I get bigger I want to play golf like Dandaddy and Daddy!” That’s my girl! (She calls me Dandaddy, and my wife is Meema.)

Polka Dots: The other day Laura and Alyssa stop by AT&T where Alyssa sees a lady with freckles all over her face. Laura saw it coming but was unable to prevent what came out of Alyssa’s mouth. Fascinated, Alyssa looked at the lady and said, “You have polka dots all over your face. Did you get an owie?” Laura says the lady was super nice about the whole thing.

Fat Pickles: As is their habit at dinner, Ken (Alyssa’s dad) and Laura will bow for prayer. Alyssa frequently is the one who offers the prayer of blessing. On this particular evening she offered this bit of thanks for the food. “Dear Jesus, thank you for the food, thank you for fat pickles, and thank you for the whole wide world. Amen!” Laura tells us she has no idea where “fat pickles” came from.

Brookie, Deziray, Alyssa
Macaroni: Occasionally Alyssa gets to spend the day with her cousin (they call each other Cuz), 3-year-old Brookie, daughter of our youngest, Jenny. Recently the cousins were together at Laura’s home eating macaroni and cheese. Brookie spilled some of the noodles on the floor. So, being the older cousin (5 months!), Alyssa felt it to be her duty to point out Brookie’s breach of table etiquette. Brookie simply replied, “It’s okay, Cuz. Your mommy will clean it up!”

Red Light: Laura was sitting at a traffic signal that was taking forever to change when she hears this voice from the back seat, “Turn green already!”

Play Set: Alyssa saw this really cool back yard play set at the store and says, “Mommy, I want this!” The play set was listed at $4000! Laura said, “I know you want it, baby, but mommy doesn’t have the money to buy it.” Alyssa then says, “Where’s the piggy?” “The piggy? What piggy? Why do you want the piggy?” asked Laura. Alyssa says, “Mommy, the piggy with monies in it so you can buy it!”

Cat: Alyssa was holding their cat who decided this was not to his liking. As the cat was fussing and squirming, Alyssa says, “Calm down, crazy child!” Hmmm, wonder where Alyssa has heard that?

Hugs: In a spontaneous gesture that makes young ones so delightful, Alyssa reached over and hugged her mother, saying, “You’re my best friend, mommy!”

Dandaddy and Alyssa
 Boss: Alyssa made this startling announcement to her mother. “You are not the boss! Daddy is.” Her mom said, “I’m not a boss?” “No!” said Alyssa, “You’re my mommy and I’m Alyssa!”

Letters: So one day Alyssa is going over her letters with her mom. She’s holding up letters, and then asking her mom, “What letter is this?” After her mom answers, she says, “Okay!” Then she says, “Good job, mommy! You’re my big helper!”

Queen: Alyssa felt it was important to establish the female pecking order in the home, so she tells her mom, “I’m the queen, and you’re the princess.”

Cake: What kid doesn’t love cake and ice cream? Well, Alyssa had this comment while eating a dish of ice cream. “I want cake. Cake is warm.”

Chocolate Chips: Here’s a situation we can all appreciate! While in the process of making chocolate chip cookies, Laura told Alyssa that she needed to put the chocolate chips in the cookie dough, not in her mouth. Alyssa said, “No! I wanna eat them!”

Jesus: Alyssa announced one day, “Jesus is in my heart, and Meema and Dandaddy found him too, in a box!”

I hope you get a chuckle or two from these priceless moments with Alyssa. As you can tell, Meema and I are having a ball being grandparents!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Operation Friendship

Enter – USS Ronald Reagan, CVN-76, symbolizing “Operation Tomodachi.” The Japanese selected the name Tomodachi, meaning “Friendship,” for the multi-national operation coordinated to help them dig out from the horrific destruction wrought by nature’s fury.

This massive warship, the Reagan (nicknamed “Gipper” for the former president’s role in the movie, Knute Rockne: All American) is presently sitting off the coast of Japan providing a vast array of basic life support services for the victims of the devastating 9.0 earthquake/tsunami double punch that struck this island nation late last week north of Tokyo centered in the town of Sendai. Added to this turmoil is the danger of nuclear power plants suffering destructive meltdowns. To make matters worse, an active volcanic mountain, Shinmoedake, located at the southwestern end of the island of Kyushu, is acting up, spewing rock and ash up to two-and-a-half miles into the atmosphere. The Reagan has airlift capabilities and can provide medical facilities, fresh water supplies and render other aid if needed. In fact, Reagan has distillation plants providing 400,000 gallons of fresh water from sea water daily, enough to supply 2,000 homes.

The potential loss of life for the Japanese is beyond comprehension! Ships at sea have literally been swallowed up; an entire train is unaccounted for; one village has five thousand homes under water; and one town of ten thousand people is missing! Hundreds of thousands of people are being evacuated from the center of the earthquake area; also from the areas around the nuclear power plants that have either experienced explosions, or are deemed unstable at the present time; and then there are additional tens of thousands of people being evacuated from the area around Shinmoedake.

The Japanese are known for being extremely well organized and industrious, but these unexpected circumstances will tax the most prepared of people. The infrastructure of Japan is sound in most situations. However, this is as abnormal as you could ever imagine. Even the fertile minds of Hollywood moviemakers would be hard pressed to come up with the complexities of this present tragedy.

USS Ronald Reagan
The Ronald Reagan CSG (Carrier Support Group – ships that sail in support of the carrier) is comprised of USS Ronald Reagan, the guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), and the ships of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7, which include the guided missile destroyers USS Preble (DDG 88) and USS Howard (DDG 83), and the guided missile frigate USS Thach (FFG 43). CVW-14 includes the “Black Knights” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 154, the “Argonauts” of VFA-147, the “Blue Diamonds” of VFA-146, the “Death Rattlers” of VMFA-323, the “Black Eagles” of Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 113, the “Cougars” of Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VAQ) 139, the “Providers” of Carrier Logistics Support (VRC) 30, and the “Black Knights” of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 4. There are some 6,000 sailors and Marines onboard the Reagan. That’s a lot of support!

Japan is well supplied with American military and military bases. The U.S. 7th Fleet is located at Yokosuka (pronounced: Yo-koos-ka) Naval Base, also called, Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY) about an hour’s drive south of Tokyo. CFAY is the largest strategically important U.S. Naval installation in the western Pacific. A short train ride west of Tokyo is Yokota Air Force Base. The host unit at Yokota is the 374th Airlift Wing and is currently used for airlift missions throughout East Asia. The 374th includes four groups: operations, mission support, maintenance and medical. Not far from Tokyo Bay is Atsugi Naval Air Facility. It is the largest United States Navy air base in the Pacific Ocean and houses the squadrons of Carrier Air Wing 5, which deploys with the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73). And then there is Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. This base is detailed for Marine pilot training and air patrol, using F/A-18 Hornet fighter-attack aircraft among others in compliance with the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security obligations to protect Japan. South of the four main islands of Japan is the Japanese island of Okinawa, hosting a sizable American military presence. There are nine Marine Corps bases/facilities, one Air Force, three Navy, and three Army facilities.

I chose to research and share this information with you because unless you have some knowledge of military operations and capabilities it might not mean anything to you to hear over the news that our military is assisting the Japanese in their time of need. I have personally been to every one of the bases located in Japan, and several of the facilities in Okinawa, not to mention spending a good deal of time on a variety of Navy ships, including aircraft carriers.

Trust me: The Japanese are in good hands!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Bomb Brothers

Colonel George Washington Rains
 War makes for strange bedfellows!

During the American Civil War, two brothers, George Washington Rains and Gabriel James Rains, were responsible for creating some of the most unique and dastardly explosives yet to be implemented in modern warfare. Both men were graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. However, they were Southerners by birth, so when the Civil War broke out, they resigned from the U.S. Army, whereupon they were commissioned into the Confederate Army. Dubbed the “Bomb Brothers,” this pair forever changed the way warfare would be handled both on land and at sea.

General Gabriel James Rains

Gabriel Rains was born in 1803, fourteen years before his much younger brother George. Their father was a cabinetmaker in New Bern, North Carolina. The brothers were never close, primarily due to their age difference, but they did share a consuming interest and passion for blowing things up!

Gabriel patented the first landmine, which he called the “sub-terra explosive shell.” In 1862 during the Peninsula Campaign, Confederate forces were attempting to stall the Army of the Potomac (Union Army) which was bearing down on the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Gabriel took discarded shell casings from a broken-down munitions wagon and created some of his new fangled landmines which he personally buried in the sandy beaches along the James River where he knew Federal forces would land in an attempt to make their way to Richmond. The electronic explosive devices were set off by pressure when the weight of horses and wagons triggered the unseen explosives. The mines erupted with devastating results, causing entire Union commands to panic and bolt out of the area. Rains decided to plant even more mines in a protective pattern around the capital of Richmond. These were the first landmines used in war.

"Lump of Coal" Bomb
General Gabriel Rains came up with one of the more ingenious devices ever devised in the mind of man when, in 1864, he had a personal meeting with Confederate States of America (CSA) president, Jefferson Davis. Rains handed Davis what appeared to be a lump of coal. Intrigued, Davis scrutinized this black object, concluding that it was “perfect.” This bomb was made of cast iron, but the outside was cleverly crafted to look like any other lump of coal. Being easily transported in a pouch or pocket, this “lump of coal” could be tossed into the coal bin of a Union ship where it would eventually be shoveled into the fires of the ship’s boiler. The ensuing explosion would destroy the boiler, sink the ship, and would most certainly maim and kill the unwary. Union commanders were outraged at this deceptive enemy tactic and called upon Confederate leadership to cease such barbarity. Northern newspapers decried this devilish manner of warfare which was being inflicted on unsuspecting Union forces. The Confederate leadership eventually made certain concessions, authorizing the use of such weapons only in specific instances against enemy forces, but these devices were not to be used in the wanton killing of people in a general sense.

Booby traps soon became part of the Confederate arsenal in the Civil War. Mines were set to explode “in wells, around houses, in bags of flour and carpetbags, and around telegraph poles.”

Later in the war, Gabriel Rains was appointed head of the Confederate Torpedo Bureau. Among his creations was a torpedo. These floating devices were made using demijohns which are large glass bottles with short necks and covered in wickerwork. Once the explosive material was placed inside of the bottles and the fuse was set, the bottles would be released into the James River around Richmond to impede the advancing Federal ships. Besides the torpedoes, Rains claims there were as many as 1,300 land mines guarding the various entrances to the Richmond area.

We frequently lament the use of IEDs by al Qaeda and Taliban forces against our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and rightly so. But let’s remember: these devices were first created and implemented by Americans against Americans in the Civil War. And for that, you have the “Bomb Brothers” to thank!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Gold Star Families

This past weekend my wife and I attended the annual California Gold Star Families conference at the Marines’ Memorial Association in San Francisco. We’ve attended this function in the past but had to miss in recent years due to health issues.

This year there were one hundred fallen military members represented. Families of these soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines come together to set up a display of their loved one’s memorabilia and then spend the next couple of days interacting with each other in organized social events and structured group discussions. I was first invited several years ago, along with Isaura, to attend this gathering of the Gold Star Families to provide one-on-one counseling should the need arise. This allowed me to put my many years of ministry as a Navy chaplain and church pastor to good use. As a Navy wife, Isaura served as an ombudsman, helping families in the midst of crises and upheaval. In her civilian vocation she has worked with juvenile boys in a group home setting, and then later, she has been working for a foster family agency. So you can see she is accustomed to helping people deal with the pain and suffering associated with family disruption and loss.

During this weekend, we make ourselves available to these special folks by simply being there. We sit and talk at meals together, and also participate in some of the group sessions. There are several other professional caretakers serving in a similar capacity. Just this evening over dinner, there were three families at our table. One lady who was easily in her 60s, lost her son a few years ago in Iraq. Eighteen months later she lost her husband who never managed to come to grips with their son’s death. He was laid to rest alongside his son. The lady’s best friend was in attendance with her to be of support over the weekend. The family sitting next to them at dinner had become close friends, ironically, when both families were visiting the grave sites of their loved one. It was in the same cemetery literally next to each other! The connection became so strong that the father of the other lost son said he wants to be buried next to not only his son, but the son and father of the other family.

While sitting at dinner, following dessert and coffee, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to face a man from the next table. Since I had been publicly introduced earlier in the evening as a retired Navy chaplain, this man decided to ask me if I knew Captain John Cruse, also a retired Navy chaplain. I assured him I most certainly did! Father John had been my commanding officer in a reserve unit on Treasure Island back in the early 90s. I asked this man if he would tell me about the son he lost. He told me how his son had been flying a reconnaissance plane when they experienced fire in the engine. Choosing not to bail out of his plane because they were over a large city, he managed to find a small acre of land to crash in, thus avoiding the loss of innocent civilian lives.

I also heard the story of a Marine Lieutenant Colonel who was the guest of honor at this event last year. Following his speech, reached under the podium, grabbed a beautifully encased American flag, walked over to a table where a mother was sitting, and presented her with the flag. Though her son, a Navy corpsman, was killed serving with the Marines in the jungles of Vietnam in 1968, she was not able to provide him with a proper military burial because of anti-war protesters. They threw rocks through her front window and harassed her so that she did not feel it was safe to have anything but a private burial. The general knelt down on a knee and spoke to her in a whisper for several minutes. When he was done, he stood up, came to attention facing her, and rendered a slow hand salute, befitting the occasion. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place!

There are so many more stories such as these, but time and space prevent me from giving you more. The folks that make this all happen are the Blue Star moms. This organization of volunteers is typically made up of women who have, or have had, a loved one serve in the military. They are tireless in their efforts to honor the Gold Star parents who carry the lasting pain of having lost a son or daughter during a time of war.

As I was walking around the display tables of the various fallen warriors, I stopped at one table because my eye caught a statement expressed in a framed photograph. This eloquent sentiment summed up for me the entire weekend: “When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.”

The Gold Star families are also a poignant reminder to all of us that our freedom comes at a high price. General George Patton once said, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”

Take a moment to thank God for these fallen men and women, and their families who have sacrificed so much.