Tuesday, June 30, 2009

British soldiers injured in Afghanistan treated to sailing trip

Another story today on helping wounded soldiers and veterans recover from their experiences. The word PTSD doesn't appear anywhere in this article from the UK Ministry of Defence, but the idea of teamwork and rigorous adventure as a means of recovery is not new and would seem to be effective. The article also highlights the historic and strong ties between the regions of Great Britain and Army regiments. MP+

A sailing trust recently showed its appreciation for its local regiment by inviting soldiers, some of whom have been injured in Afghanistan, on a week-long sailing trip.

Sixteen soldiers from 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment set off from Portsmouth on Monday 22 June 2009, under the watchful supervision of qualified seamen from the Cirdan Sailing Trust.

Sailing on the 32-metre-long Queen Galadriel - a Baltic Trader sailing vessel with a Gaff Ketch rig - the soldiers travelled to the Channel Islands, returning to Portsmouth on Friday 26 June.

Amongst the crew were five soldiers who were seriously injured in Afghanistan in 2007, including Corporal Billy Moore from Southend who was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery.

Read the whole article here.

US Wounded Warriors Return to Iraq

A friend of mine asked here recently how Canadian and US programs aimed at helping wounded soldiers recover compare and contrast. That's an interesting question and one that I'll be doing some research on. While thinking about it today, I chanced to come across this piece from the US Armed Forces Press Service about a program allowing severely wounded soldiers to return to theatre as a means of attaining closure (I hate that word but it seems apropos here) on their experience, which I would think is an important tool in fighting the long-term effects of PTSD). MP+

Wounded Warriors Return to Iraq
American Forces Press Service

Left to right; U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Brown, retired Staff Sgt. Bradley Gruetzner, and Sgt. Christopher A. Burrell, soldiers wounded in combat while deployed to Iraq, walk through “Hero’s Highway” at Air Force Theater Hospital before returning to Camp Victory after a visit to Joint Base Balad, Iraq, June 25, 2009. Brown, Gruetner, Burrell, and four other soldiers had the opportunity to return to Iraq and to visit the places they once served. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Brian A. Barbour

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq, June 29, 2009 – Six wounded soldiers, all amputees, returned here last week hoping to close the door on the combat that changed them forever.

The last time Sgt. Christopher A. Burrell was in Iraq, he was pulled from a burning vehicle in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood. A tourniquet applied by another soldier saved his life, but a nurse here at the Air Force Theater Hospital had to break the tragic news—his left leg was gone, taken by an explosively formed projectile.

Now, almost a year and a half later, and after months of rehabilitation and physical therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Burrell returned to Iraq with five other amputee combat veterans as part of Operation Proper Exit.

”I don’t remember much, but I remember my nurse,” Burrell said. ”Shelly. She was an angel, there to comfort me when I was in a difficult spot.“

Operation Proper Exit, a United Service Organizations pilot program sponsored by the Army and the Troops First Foundation, allows soldiers wounded in combat to return to Iraq. The goal of the program is to give the soldiers an opportunity for closure, and to see the progress made in securing and stabilizing the country, Burrell said.

Read the whole story here.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Warhammer 40K Warp Vortex is Consuming Me

As promised earlier, I've made some progress on my other blog, madpadrewargames.

If this picture of little green men interests you, click here to see some Warhammer 40K spaceorks I've been working on lately.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Recent Toronto Star Afghan Coverage Identifies Effects of PTSD on Canadian Veterans

Toronto Star reporter David Bruser has recently published a series of
articles on what it claims is a growing trend - young Canadian males who
have served one or more tours in Afghanistan and suffering from
post-traumatic stress disorder, now appearing in the courts system on
criminal charges relating to assault, domestic assault, drug abuse, and
weapons charges.

In his own words:

"I had been searching for guys like this - soldiers who came back from
the war damaged and dangerous. My hunch was that as Canada's commitment
in Afghanistan deepens, there is a mounting cost not measured in
taxpayer dollars or battlefield casualties. I wanted to know if soldiers
were bringing the violence home. Violence to themselves, their wives,
even strangers."
See the article this quote comes from:

One of the soldiers Bruser found is Private Matthew Keddy, pictured here during his tour in Afghanistan:

The following in an excerpt from Bruser's article:

IN HIS FAST FALL from soldier to suspect, Pte. Matthew Charles Keddy,
without a criminal record before the war, has shared the same courtroom
as drunk drivers and an armed robber sentenced to six years in a federal
Prosecutor: "According to the information the (military is) getting,
he's not cooperating with the program."
Judge McCarroll: "Well, if he's mentally ill, maybe that's the problem.
Maybe he can't comply. Maybe it's not his fault. Maybe it's as a result
of the fact that he went overseas, saw some terrible things and is back
here, suffering from some kind of a stress type of situation that he
needs help for."
Keddy violated a court order to stay out of Saint John when he went to
the bridge. (The order stemmed from the assault charge involving his
girlfriend.) On this day, Oct. 20, 2008, Judge McCarroll tells Keddy he
must stay on the base, CFB Gagetown, unless accompanied by his parents,
and undergo a psychological assessment.
Judge McCarroll: "How about it, Matthew? Are you willing to go through
the program that they have up there (on the base)?"
Keddy: "I just want to go home."
Judge McCarroll: "Home with your parents, you mean?"
Keddy: "Yeah. You send me up there, I'm going to go nuts."
The microphone picks up Keddy's sniffles. His voice shakes.
Keddy: "They say they're going to help me, but they don't help me. They
don't care ... (sniffling) ... They don't care."
Judge McCarroll (addressing Keddy's stepfather in the courtroom
gallery): "How was everything before he went overseas?"
Stepfather: "Oh it was good. He was happy. He was excited about life. He
loved Canada."
Keddy: "I was normal."

There is no question that David Bruser has found some Afghan veterans
who are profoundly damaged by their experience in theatre. One
particularly haunting story is that of Jason Mann, a former infantry
corporal who says "You know what would make me happy?" he says, tears
welling in his eyes. "Going back there and getting killed."
He grabs the hem of his T-shirt and lifts it to wipe his face.
"I think I would have been a better man if I had died there. Weird,
huh?" See the complete article on Jason Mann here.

Another poignant profile is that of Warrant Officer Roger Perreault, a
combat engineer injured by an improvised explosive device in 2006 and
still struggling, together with his family, with the physical,
psychological and emotional aftermath of that injury. See his story here.

Without wishing to impugn the editorial bias of the Toronto Star, it
would be worth asking David Bruser and his editors if they are aware of
efforts made by the Canadian Forces to assist members with PTSD, such as
the OSISS (Occupational Stress Injury Social Support) program (offered by The Centre, a program run by The Directorate of Casualty Support Management (see their website here.

A document posted on the website of the Director Military Family Services states the CF's mission and priorities quite clearly:

"The Military has now recognized that it cannot simply ask that those who suffer from an OSI put all their efforts into personal change and personal growth while the Canadian Forces itself does not evolve. As well, it is now understood that creating OTSSCs to increase the ability to treat military personnel while not addressing the larger social support.aspects of operational stress injuries is bound for failure in
the long term because it incorrectly assumes that soldiers can individually change and survive in an institution that has not evolved.

The Operational Stress Injury Social Support project will hopefully result in a gradual cultural shift in the Canadian Forces charting a new course for it's future. OSISS will not only assist those who suffer from an operational stress injury but also help integrate and support those who suffer from other psycho-societal difficulties that military operations can cause."

So Mad Padre kudos to the Toronto Star for raising the effects of PTSD on soldiers, their families, and on our legal system, but my wish that the coverage focused on efforts made by the CF and by Veterans Affairs to help these soldiers and their families.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Corporal Martin Dubé comes home

Two small vignettes from the war in Afghanistan. Yesterday I had the privilege of being present on the tarmac when members of 405 Long Range Patrol Squadron came home to 14 Wing, Greenwood, after a deployment in Afghanistan. Actually, since I joined the squadron after they deployed, and since they didn't know me from Adam, I mostly just nodded, said hello and helped move their baggage, and that was fine by me.

The same day, June 17th, another CF member came home. The body of Corporal Martin Dubé arrived at CFB Trenton in Ontario. He is the 120th Canadian soldier to be killed in Afghanistan, and he travelled that section of Highway 401 now known popularly as the Highway of Heroes to Toronto.

This picture of Dubé's repatriation courtesy of The Toronto Star. Read the Star's coverage of this event here.

Martin Dubé was a combat engineer, 35 years old, with the 5e Regiment du Génie de Combat based in Valcartier, Quebec.

He was attempting to defuse a roadside bomb when it exploded, killing him, an Afghan police officer, and badly wounding an Afghan interpreter. According to a story by Colin Perkel (THE CANADIAN PRESS Jun 15, 2009 04:30 AM), Candian commander Brigadier-General Vance described Dubé was someone who believed in the Afghan mission and was eager to make a difference. "The IED that Martin was dismantling could have killed an entire family, as it was deliberately aimed at passing traffic," said Vance, the senior commander in Kandahar. "His actions, his sacrifice, saved the lives of innocents."

Rest in peace, Cpl. Dubé and may light perpetual shine upon you.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

On Swords, Shields, and a Servant People - A Sermon for the Second Sunday After Pentecost

One of the pleasures of my job as an Anglican military chaplain is that from time to time I get to play the ecclesial tourist, visiting and sometimes preaching at local churches. This Sunday, June 14th, Archdeacon Lynn Uzans, the rector of St. James Anglican Church in Kentville, invited me to preach at the 10:30am service. St. James is a beautiful neo-gothic church in the middle of Kentville, in a neighbourhood of hilly and leafy streets and charming older homes. The choir and music director are excellent. Psalm 20, the appointed psalm for the Second Sunday after Pentecost, offered an excellent opportunity for me to reflect on my vocation and on the relationship between faith and military power in ancient Israel's time and in our own time.

A Sermon for the Second Sunday After Pentecost (Lectionary Year B)

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, Psalm 20, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17, Mark 4:26-34

“Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the LORD our God.” (Ps 20.7)

Today’s gospel lesson, on the parable of the mustard seed, offers rich if somewhat well-tilled pastures for the preacher. Even so, I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t preach on this gospel. Truth to tell, I’ve never seen a mustard plant, and I don’t have the heart for gardening metaphors at the moment. You see, when the military sent me here, I was delighted to learn that I was coming to the Annapolis Valley, the fabled breadbasket of the Maritimes. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was coming to Greenwood, which is apparently the sandbox of the Annapolis Valley. Growing things in Greenwood requires topsoil, fertilizer, water, and lots of patience, which could be the elements of a good sermon illustration for another day.

Instead, I invite you to think with me about Psalm 20, and how it speaks to us as Christians and as Canadians in a time of war. As you’ve been told, I serve as a military chaplain in the Canadian Forces. I am drawn towards Psalm 20 in today’s readings because it probably began with one of my ancient predecessors, a chaplain of the army of Israel who prayed this psalm as a blessing before the king led his warriors off to battle. The “you” referred to in the psalm was probably the king of Israel himself, and the psalm was prayed as part of a liturgy after the king had presided over the “offerings” and “burnt sacrifices” mentioned in verse 3. The psalm recognizes that the king and his soldiers are marching into danger, “the day of trouble”, but it prays that God will favour the king’s military plans and lead him to victory over his enemies, who will “collapse and fall”. In many ways, Psalm 20 is an ancestor of our own anthem “God Save the Queen” – both pray that God keeps the ruler glorious, victorious and happily ruling over us.

Perhaps those of you who aren’t fans of the Old Testament might find more reason to dislike it in this psalm. One might see Psalm 20 as an attempt to manipulate a militaristic and vengeful God into backing Israel in holy war against its pagan neighbours. I say this because I myself have heard people say that chaplains blessing warships and regimental banners represent a throwback to primitive and tribal ways that are best forgotten by a peaceful and advanced society. So I expect some people to dislike this psalm, but before we condemn it I would encourage them to look more closely at this psalm’s theology. Specifically, I would encourage them to examine the line “Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the LORD our God” (20:7).

What’s being said here is quite fascinating. “Horses and chariots” were the most advanced and expensive weapons systems of early biblical times. Israel was surrounded by powerful empires whose armies were far more numerous and far better equipped than the soldiers of Israel. One of the purposes of Psalm 20 was to remind the outnumbered warriors of Israel that they were called to defend God’s covenant people against what Thomas Hardy once called “ignorant armies” who worshipped strength, conquest, and death. The memory of Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, trying to drag Israel back into slavery and drowned in the Red Sea, is surely behind the psalmist’s promise that God’s “name” is greater than any earthly power. What is meant here by “the name of the LORD our God?” here? For the psalmist, “the name of the LORD” is shorthand for everything that God means to Israel. The name of the LORD includes the vision of social justice and equity and the respect for the stranger and the resident alien envisioned by the prophet Micah. It includes the holiness of worship in the temple as seen by Isaiah, so different from the human sacrifices to idols practised by Israel’s neighbours. It includes the law of Moses and the prayers of Israel’s liturgy, the means by which God creates and consecrates a priestly kingdom to represent him in the world. All these things needed to be preserved and guarded.

God had promised through the prophets that he will call all nations to his holy mountain in peace and unity (Isaiah 11:9) and that he would send a messiah, a prince of peace, but until that day God’s vision needed defending. God’s people required soldiers to defend them, and those soldiers required kings with plans to lead them. When those kings and leaders forgot that their “pride is in the name of the LORD”, the consequences would be disaster. The prophet Jeremiah, for example, warns the people of Jerusalem that their city is about to be destroyed because the king and his leaders have forgotten who God is and who they are as leaders of God’s covenant people.

Today our situation would appear to be very different from the world of Psalm 20. Yes, we are a people at war, as evidenced this week when we repatriated Private Alexandre Peloquin, the 119th soldier to fall in Afghanistan. Yes, we still sing God Save The Queen, even if we sing it less and less. Most of us would agree that we are citizens of a multifaith country of Canada, committed to tolerance, respect, and protection for all, even if many Canadians are not Christians Those of us Canadians who identify as Christians and as Anglicans still pray for our leaders, asking God to give them wisdom and guidance. But there the similarities would appear to end. As Christian and Anglican Canadians, we have internal differences over foreign policy and the use of force. Some of us are pacifists, standing in a long and honourable tradition of Christian pacifism, and opposed to the mission in Afghanistan. For those Anglicans who support the mission, I think we would agree that we are citizens of a multifaith country of Canada, committed to tolerance, respect, and protection for all. Most of us would rightly be horrified if our elected leaders declared that we were fighting a religious war against Islam. Most of us, I am sure, agreed with President Obama when he said recently in Cairo that our fight is not against Islam but rather is against violent extremism and bigotry.

It is a complex situation, to be sure, and much changed from the time when Psalm 20 was written, but if there are points in common, I think the most important commonalities are in the psalmist’s line, “Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the LORD our God” (Ps 20:7). For me as a Christian and as a member of the Canadian Forces, that line reminds me that values are more important than equipment. (Indeed, most CF members are make do without much in the way of the modern equivalents of chariots and horses). We who serve want the CF to be a force for good in the world. Most Canadian soldiers aren’t very articulate about foreign policy. They don’t go in for big explanations, but the ones who have been to Afghanistan or Haiti will tell you, in their modest way, that they did some good, that they tried to make life better and safer for innocent people. The ones who have been to other places, like Rwanda, or Bosnia, are haunted by the memory of what happened there, and by what they weren’t able to do to save the innocent. All of us who wear the uniform today are haunted by the memory of what happened in Somalia, and are determined, as soldiers say simply, to do the right thing. Our vision in the CF is not specifically Christian, but I believe that it allows the CF to be an instrument in God’s purposes for a better world.

As Christians, living in the freedom and promise of the gospel, we wait for the day when the life and light of Christ’s resurrection will be revealed to the whole world. We also know that the imperfect, war torn world of Psalm 20 is still very much with us. As St. Paul says in Romans, our world groans for its redemption, and we believe that God’s redemption, our new lives in Christ, will put an end to race and status and all that divides us. We may struggle with how this redemption will come to pass vis a vis other religions (I serve in an officially multifaith military chaplaincy with Jewish and Muslim colleagues and we haven’t figured out how it all ends either) but we pray for the grace to see the face of Christ and to show Christ to all we meet. And, as Christians and as Anglicans, even if we disagree on the mission in Afghanistan, we are called to show Christ’s love and compassion for those who serve and for their families. The Anglican Church of Canada has just published a wonderful resource entitled “Anglican Parishes and Pastoral Support for Military Members and Their Families”. As a congregation in Atlantic Canada, where a disproportionate number of men and women serve compared to other regions in Canada, I am sure that this guide will be helpful you in your ministry and outreach, and I commend it to you.

Allow me to close with a prayer from this resource which, I hope, sums up what I’ve been trying to say.

As we pray for peace on earth let us remember all who have
been called to place themselves in harm's way for the sake of
peace, security and justice, at home and abroad. Especially do
we pray God's protection for the members of the Armed Forces
of this Country who serve in distant lands (including Name of
region at this time). May their efforts and sacrifice bring peace
and hope to others. We also remember their families at home:
for those that count the days, and for those who mourn. And we
pray that the day may be hastened when war shall be no more.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Four Afghanistan Blogs Worthy of Note

A visit to slate.com this morning (check the Sandbox link if you're a Doonesbury fan and visit there a lot) yielded four websites worthy of note. All are blogs by US military or ex-military serving and working in Afghanistan. All give a grunts-eye view of the mission there and it's challenges.

The bloggers are intelligent, funny, and helpful to understanding what's going on over there. They are:

Afghanistan Lessons Learned - a composite of several blogging friends. Funny, astute, informative. Here's a sample:

Afghan loyalty is to the smallest family unit first. When two tribes fight, they're loyal to the tribe. If two subtribes fight, it is to their subtribe. If two villages fight, it is to their village. If two families fight, it is to their cousin. If a brother chances upon two cousins fighting, it is to their brother. But if that brother is taking from his woodpile, he'll shoot him in the gut.

I cannot tell you how to gain the loyal friendship of an Afghan and neither can they. I can tell you how to ensure you never gain that friendship and that is to attempt to change them. It is to demean them. It is to be rude to them. It is to try to game them.

They recognize insincerity like an animal recognizes fear.

Just because they're telling the entire White Mountain Range that you just left the gates does not mean they're Taliban. They gossip like old women and herding goats all day can be boring. When you roll out of the gates, it's big news and every goatherder wants to be the first with the big news. It gives them something to talk about for hours and the entire valley will know before you hit the first riverbed.

Drink some Chai and play some chess. If you were ever in doubt of how smart they actually are, playing chess will remove it. An Afghan may not recognize his own name in print, but he will beat you in chess every day of the week. I only won once and that was because I distracted the mechanic with Jerry Springer. He was smart enough to concentrate on the board forever after.

Afghanistan Shrugged - a blog by a US reservist serving as an advisor (in Canada we call them OMLT - Operational Mentor and Liason Team)with the Afghan National Army - ditto.

Photo of the Day from bouhammer.com - this one shows U.S. Army soldiers from Bravo Battery, 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment cross a creek during a dismounted patrol in the Nerkh Valley of the Wardak province of Afghanistan on June 4, 2009. DoD photo by the U.S. Army.
Bouhammer is an IT guy and former (I think former) US army reserve (and former reg) infanteer who has also worked as an advisor in Afghanistan. His site is an interesting compilation of news and offers some wicked tshirts for sale.

Finally, Free Range International is a smart and opinionated blog by a retired Marine (I learned recently that there are no ex-Marines, one is always a Marine) who works over there as a defence contractor.

All worthy of note. Note to self - are there any similar blogs by Canadians or Brits? Must look.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ottawa Anglican Newsletter Profiles Work of Military Chaplains

This article in the June 2009 edition of Crosstalk, the newsletter of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa, offers several good articles on the work of Anglican chaplains in the Canadian Forces. Since I can't link to specific pages in Adobe Acrobat articles, you'll have to click on this link and look at pp. 8-9.

The Diocese of Ottawa is the home and former episcopal charge of Bishop Peter Coffin, the much beloved and very active Anglican Bishop Ordinary to the Canadian Forces (seen below on the right), as well home to Chaplain General's Office, where several prominent Anglican chaplains work, so chaplaincy has good visibility in this city.

Another Canadian Falls

Soldiers carry the body of Pte. Alexandre Péloquin, 20, into a waiting plane at Kandahar Airfield on Tuesday. (DND)

Yesterday Canada welcomed home the body of Private Alexandre Péloquin . As the DND press release stated, "Private Péloquin was killed when an explosive device detonated during a foot patrol in the Panjwai District. The incident took place in an area south-west of Kandahar City at around 9:20 a.m., Kandahar time, June 8, 2009. He was serving as a member of the 2e Bataillon, Royal 22e Régiment Battle Group."

CBC News reported this about him. " ... Péloquin's grandmother, Rita Moore-Péloquin, told The Canadian Press her grandson was made for the military and joined the cadets at a young age.

Péloquin wanted to go to Afghanistan to help people, said Moore-Péloquin.

Péloquin was serving with the 3rd Battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment, known as the Van Doos, based at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier near Quebec City.

He is the 12th Valcartier soldier to have died during the mission, which began seven years ago. The overall Canadian death toll is 119 soldiers, one diplomat and two aid workers."

Rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him.

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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