Monday, August 31, 2009

A German Chaplain on the Russian Front

I'm always drawn to annecdotes in military history about the work of chaplains. This short and tantalizing story is found in Panzer Commander, the memoirs of Colonel Hans Von Luck, a German officer with a distinguished service record in World War Two.

In Von Luck's account of 7 Panzer Division's retreat from Moscow in the winter of 1941, he mentions the division's chaplain, Martin Tarnow. Thus far I've been unable to find anything about him, and would be grateful for any information. MP+

"Only the will to reach safety in the prepared positions kept the men going. Anything to avoid being left behind and falling into the hands of the Russians.

Our divisional chaplain, Martin Tarnow, in his notes "Last Hours", has described the suffering and death of so many men.

"Voda, voda (water): Some wounded men lay in a kind of barn, among them a few Russians. In the face of death there were no longer any enemeies. Again and again came the penetrating cry of a Russian: 'Voda, voda". I gave him my water-bottle; he drained it in one grateful swig. When I raised his blanket, I saw the blood-saoked bandage. A stomach wound, no hope. We couldn't understand each other, but suddenly he grasped my silver cross. Perhaps he, too, had a cross at home, hanging on the wall of his parents' house? I thought of Christ on the cross, who had once cried out, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise". It was not long before his hand released my cross, he died very quickly. In dying, I believe he was consoled."

Hans Von Luck, Panzer Commander (New York: Dell, 1989), p. 82.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Lt. William Calley Addresses His Role in the My Lai Massacre

The My Lai Massacre was one of the most infamous moments of the Vietnam War, and is an important case study in military ethics of what can happen when regular soldiers are faced with the pressures of an insurgency campaign against unknown enemies amidst a civilian population. William Calley's words, and his evident contrition, need to be listened to attentively. MP+

New York Times, August 24, 2009, 2:21 pm
An Apology for My Lai, Four Decades Later
By Robert Mackey

William Calley addresses the Kiwanis Clubof Clomumbus, Ga, last Wednesday.

Last week, William Calley, the only American soldier to be held legally responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Vietnamese civilians in and around the village of My Lai in 1968 by a platoon under his command, apologized for the first time.

Under the headline “An Emotional William Calley Says He Is Sorry,” Dick McMichael, a former television news anchor in Columbus, Ga., broke the news last Wednesday on his blog:

“There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai,” William Calley told members of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Columbus today. His voice started to break when he added, “I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry.”

Read the whole article here.

Contemporary Photographs of the Western Front

Mike St. Maur Sheil is a British journalist who was inspired to document the battlefields of the Western Front of World War One after visiting Dunkirk with his father, who was there during the evacuation in 1940.

As St. Maur Sheil puts it, "Oddly enough he featured in what has become one of the iconic images of that battle but what came as a complete suprise to me was the extraordinary memory which he had for what appeared to me to be feature-less fields. His soldier's eye was able to match the angles of church towers to the trenches they had dug and for the first time I appreciated the importance to the infantryman of even the merest ripple on the surface of a field. We visited Ypres and I watched him as he stood erect at the Menin Gate, fighting back his tears: it was an emotion I had never been exposed to before and I began to visit other battlefields and started taking pictures.

The men of 1914-18 largely saw the land torn apart and stripped of its covering mantle of grass and trees, it's bones literally laid bare as they sought shelter within its protective skin. Today living memory of those times has, sadly, all but disappeared but the landscape which was the setting for those tumultuous events still reflects its violent past. Nature may have healed the tortured landscape of the battle but the searching eye can frequently spot the place where concrete and steel push upwards from the soil like some strange fungus and the imprint of fighting trenches indicate where men fought and died. For me, the challenge is to combine the elements of light and land to document the dramatic history of these fields."

I learned about St. Maur Sheil's website,, via the chatter on the Two Fat Lardies discussion group, and it was well worth bookmarking. The quality of the pictures, the sense of what these landscapes have witnessed, and the recuperative power of nature, is amazing. Here's a sample:

The website's caption for this image: "The disused railway line which intersects the Broodseinde Ridge to the south of Passchendaele was the scene of one of Frank Hurley's kmost famous pictures taken about 100m away from where this shot looks towards the furthest extent of the Allied advance in 1917."

By comparison, the same landscape as photographed by Frank Hurley click here for a larger version and for more Hurley photopgraphs):

US Soldier Recovers From Being Shot in the Head - Twice

This story about a US soldier who survived two separate gunshot wounds in the head, and who wants to hike the Appalachain Trail as part of his recovery, is inspirational. It's also good to hear hopeful news about how the medical community is continung to learn from military injuries. MP+

Chairman Honors Wounded Soldier for Selfless Service
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2009 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff noted on a recent visit to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., that wounded veterans recovering there all had one thing in common.

“These are individuals, without arms and legs at that point, who had one common desire -- and that was to get back with their unit,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said Aug. 25 at the presentation ceremony for the 2009 International Brain Mapping and Interoperative Surgical Planning Society’s Beacon of Courage and Dedication Awards in Boston. “Their only concern was, ‘How do I get out of here and get back with them?’”

A desire to serve again also was expressed by one of the award recipients, retired Army Sgt. Maj. Colin Rich, who recovered from two traumatic brain injuries and returned to active duty each time.

Read the whole story here.

A related piece, about the US Chair of the Joint Chiefs remarks to the 6th Annual World Congress for Brain Mapping and Image Guided Therapy on treating soldiers with head injuries and with PTSD can be found here.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Out and About in Nova Scotia

Just leaving for a five day tip up to the north shore of the Bay of Fundy, including a trip to the fossil museum at Joggins. We're hoping that Hurrican Bill or Bob or Billy-bog or whatever its name is will leave us in peace but it looks like we'll get a piece of it.

Here are some shots of places we saw last Sunday further west down the Valley and on the coast above Bridgetown.

Hayfield by the Bay of Fundy, near Port George.

Coo, rock on the beach at Cottage Cove, pretending to be a creature from the original Star Trek.

Other strange creatures on the beach.

View of the Annapolis Valley through the trees at the lookoff at Valleyview Provincial Park, above Bridgetown.

Another view from from the same spot, overlookig Bridgetown;

Beautiful seaside water garden constructed by Chester and Dot Reese, who live near Cottage Cove on the Bay of Fundy, near Port George.

Chester and Dot raise plants for sale. Here are some of their lillies. The remarkable thing about these two is that they're in their eighties and do all of their own work:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Firefighter For a Day

Who hasn't looked at firefighters in action and thought, just for a minute, I'd like to do that? This Monday I had the chance to be a firefighter for seven minutes and seventeen seconds. That was enough.

One of the units at 14 Wing I serve as chaplain is the Wing firehall. This group of roughly thirty firefighters provides crash and rescue support to all air operations on the Wing, as well as firefighting support to all Wing buildings and residential quarters. They also have agreements with other fire departments in this part of the Valley to assist them if needs be.

Each year these guys have to do a firefighter fitness test, which features activities unique to their trade. It's totally different than the standard Express Test done by all other Canadian Forces members. Each firefighter is required to wear full bunker gear and breathing apparatus, and has eight minutes to do a series of activities such as climb a ladder so that both feet are on the tenth rung, five times up and down:

Carry a heavy object (the cutters of the jaws of life)about fifty metres:

Other stations include dragging a 180 pound dummy, "Rescue Randy", about fifty metres, carrying rolls of hose and dragging a fuly charged hose, simulating a forced entry by hitting a large tire full of sandbags with a twenty pound slege so that the tire moves five feet down the length of a table, positioning a thirty foot ladder against a wall and taking it down again, and dragging about forty pounds of coils hose and couplings about fifty metres using ropes.

You have to complete the course without depleting your air bottle, and as you are breathing hard with all this physical exertion, you are sucking a lot of air. A few guys came close to running out.

Chaplains spend a lot of time "loitering with intent" to get to know the troops we serve, and so I spent Monday morning watching the guys go through their paces. The firefighters ranged in age from the young twenties to the mid fifties and they turned in some impressive times, some finishing the course in under six minutes. I had asked if I could suit up and try the course, and when my time came at the end, and they said "OK padre, want to give it a try?", I was both nervous and excited. Well, most nervous that I'd embarrass myself in front of these guys, who seemed politely sceptical that I'd manage to succeed. The deput chief, MWO Martin, leant me his gear ("already pre-sweated", he joked) and the guys quickly and efficiently kitted me out. I was good to go.

The first thing you feel when you put on the bunker gear is the weight. It's heavy and restrictive and it takes effort to bring your knees up. Then, with the breathing gear on, you realize that you're about sixty pounds heavier than normal. I imagine this is how divers feel before they go into the water. Once the air bottle is hooked up to your mask you can hear the air coming out of it as you breath, shockingly loud and almost echoing inside the mask. With the gloves and the helmet on, only the ears and a bit of the neck is exposed - every other part of your body is covered. It was now 11:30am, the heat was getting up to its midday high, and I was grateful that I was only wearing my running shorts and shirt under all this gear.

Pam, from Personnel Support Services, who run the test, started her watch and I was off. Carrying the coiled hose was easy enough. Getting the ladder up and against the wall was hard work - I realized how much these guys work on their upper body strength. Dragging the charged hose, I realized how hard this would be, and really leaned into it, my feet seemingly encased in lead as I struggled forward. My breathing was coming hard now. Fortunately one of the guys showed me how I could touch a button on the mask and get a little extra shot of air, which helped me as I headed for the ladder. I'd seen the others struggle on this part, and they all said how the lactic acid in the leg muscles built up quickly on this part. With my heavy boots I felt clumsy on the rungs, and the second and third time up I was dragging and panting hard. Down the third time. Thank god. A little walking rest to my next station, dragging the hose using the ropes. I remembered that the guys really bent over and got a rhythm going as they pulled. A couple of times I lost my grip on the hose and almost fell, but I managed. How much time left? I had no idea.

Now over to the tire. Banged at it madly with the sledge. That's good, Pam said. Over to Rescue Randy. Fortunately he had a little harness on. Fortunately he's not as heavy as a few of the air crew I've seen around here. Heavy enough. Crap, back to the ladder. Two more times up and down. My legs are like rubber. I'm dying. Almost down now, take the other ladder down and put it back. That's fairly easy, gravity's my friend here. OK, done. I can hear some cheering now, barely audible over the sound of my breathing. I'm stumbling a bit. Over to the jaws of life. Last station. They're fricking heavy, and I'm losing my grip. Hug them to my chest and stagger 25 metres and 25 metres back. Almost drop them. Done. Hands are helping me get the mask off. I'm soaked in sweat. Pam tells me my time. Seven minutes and seventeen seconds. Forty-three seconds to spare. I'm grinning like a fool.

Here's me and MWO Martin, after my test.

So the next time I visit these guys, or the next time I see a firetruck racing to a call, I will know a little bit more about what it takes to make a firefighter. Knowing a bit about the other guy's life is a big part of chaplaincy. As one of the guys said to me, "You want to walk a bit in my shoes, do you padre?" Yup. And I found that they are big shoes, or in this case, boots.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Muslim Chaplain Brings Unique Perspective to US Army

- To self and to other chaplains - notice how often Chaplain Agbere's smile is mentioned in this article.

By Melissa Bower
Special to American Forces Press Service

Chaplain (Maj.) Dawud Agbere and his family pose outside of their home in Normandy Village on Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Aug. 11, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Prudence Siebert

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan., Aug. 17, 2009 – Ten years ago, when he was a battalion commander at Fort Sill, Okla., then–Army Col. Jim Davis received a call that the Army had a new chaplain for his soldiers -- and he was Muslim.

The 400 soldiers with 6th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery, although mostly Christian, trusted Chaplain Dawud Agbere right away, said Davis, now an assistant professor for the Center for Army Tactics.

"I got a chaplain that soldiers loved to go and talk to," Davis said. "He's just an outgoing individual, and his smile was just infectious."

Read the whole article here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Night With Ensemble Polaris

What do a hurdy gurdy, a bass clarinet, a set of bagpipes, and Norwegian lyrics add up to? A rocking good time is the answer, as I discovered this weekend when I discovered Ensemble Polaris. The concert was one of the offerings of the Evergreen Theatre, one of the cultural treasures of the Annapolis Valley. Normally the Evergreen concerts are held in their wonderful hall at East Margaretsville on North Mountain, but this won was held at the old Trinity Anglican Church in Middleton. Old Trinity it the only unaltered church in Nova Scotia built by United Empire Loyalists - the first service there was 1791.

The old church was a suitable setting for music that, in some cases goes back to early Norse myths and legends (though a lot of the set list was original stuff). I could certainly understand why they bill themselves as "Canada's premiere Arctic Fusion Band".

You can listen to some of EP's music here. Ensemble Polaris definitely rates a tip of the padre's beret - go see them if you get the chance!

Good Bread - A Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

Preached at St. Mark’s Protestant Chapel, 19 August, 2009

1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14; Psalm 111, Ephesians 5:15-20, John 6:51-58

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51)

This morning I brought two items of food. One item is a loaf of bread, made at Guy and Marie’s French bakery in Kingston. The other item is a bag of Doritos that I bought at the grocery store.

Here’s the first question – if you were hungry and I said you could choose one, which one would you rather eat?

Here’s the second question – from a health and nutrition point of view, which one do you think would be better for you? That’s a loaded question. While the Doritos might be emotionally satisfying if you needed some comfort food, with all their additives and preservatives, and with their caloric content, they would be a poor second to a home-made loaf of wholegrain bread with all natural ingredients. Likewise, as a processed food, the Doritos might not leave you filling full and satisfied for long, whereas your stomach would take longer to digest the wholegrain bread and you would be more satisfied.

Here’s a third question – in what context would you see yourself eating either of these items?

The Doritos would be very convenient – you could eat them right out of the bag while at your desk or while watching TV. But generally, as with fast food, they are made for convenience, for eating on the go. (By the way, I cam across a 2006 figure from the Culinary Institute of North America that says North Americans eat 19% of their meals and snacks inside their cars - (By the way, I cam across a 2006 figure from the Culinary Institute of North America that says North Americans eat 19% of their meals and snacks inside their cars. While they can be shared, it’s not a food that invites sharing (although again, if you’re eating them in your car, chances are you’re alone since 77% of Canadian commuters drive alone – same source).

The bread isn’t that convenient. You need a knife, a cutting board, perhaps some butter, and why not a stove or a microwave, since bread is always best hot? If you’re going to all that trouble, why not have some friends over for a meal? Good idea, and since that’s nice bread, and since it’s a special occasion, why not enhance that meal with some wine, some nice plates and glasses, and a nice clean tablecloth? If you’re going to all that trouble, better allow at least three hours, but the conversation and friendship and special memories will be worth the cost of that time. So the Doritos win hands down for convenience, but they don’t compete with the bread as a key to a special occasion and a memorable meal.

Now a final question – which one of these two foods will keep you alive? While one might be better for you than the other, neither will keep you alive for long. At some point soon, you’ll begin to feel hungry and weak, and you’ll need to eat again, or you’ll start to die.

As you’ve no doubt guessed by now, I’ve been leading up to talking about today’s gospel reading, where Jesus says that he is “the living bread that came down from heaven” (Jn 6:51). What does Jesus mean here? Is Jesus speaking as a nutritionist? Is he talking about healthy eating? No. Jesus is using bread as a figure of speech, comparing his body to bread that is being given to the whole world so that all may live. He’s talking about spiritual life, but in another sense, he’s being quite literal, insisting that his body IS bread to be EATEN. Eugene Peterson’s translation in the Message does a good job of capturing the literal quality of this speech.

“I am the Bread – living Bread! - who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live – and forever! The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self” (The Message pp. 202-203).

Bishop Tom Wright, who knows more Greek than I do, notes that the verb Jesus uses for the idea of “eat” is a very earthy, physical one, best translated here as “chew” or “munch”. Jesus is talking about physical eating and drinking, and he’s saying that we have to munch his flesh and swallow his blood. For the people of Jesus’ day, this talk was hard to accept. John notes in our gospel passage that the Judeans argued amongst themselves and said “How can this man give us his flesh to eat”? (Jn 6:52). At the end of John 6, when Jesus repeats his message almost word for word, even some disciples have some trouble accepting it, saying “This teaching is difficult, who can accept it?” (Jn 6:60).

If we don’t think too much about Jesus or about what he’s asking of us, this message isn’t difficult at all. Maybe the occasional prayer when we need something, the odd communion service to give us a warm glow, nothing too challenging. However, if we really think about this message, what I’ll call the “chewy Jesus message”, it can be difficult. The “chewy Jesus” demands that we sink our teeth into him, really chew on what he means and what he asks of us, really digest his message and take him into our lives. It’s not a quick snack, it’s not spiritual junk food. Like fresh wholegrain bread, it takes time to eat and appreciate.

Here’s what I think the chewy Jesus is offering to those who really want it:

1) A special and intimate union (hence the word communion) with Jesus, as expressed in his words “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” Jn 6:56). The word “abide” is a favourite word of the Fourth Evangelist and the idea of Jesus abiding, or dwelling with us, is a favourite one. Other expressions of this idea in John include the idea of friendship (“I have called you friends” Jn 15:15) and receipt of God’s love (“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (Jn 14:23).

2) Eternal life, expressed in terms of physical resurrection and escape from condemnation of the final judgement: (“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true life.” Jn 6:54-55)

3) Jesus is implying that God is using him to do a new thing in His relationship with His covenant people, going beyond the feeding of the Israelites in the desert with manna described in Exodus (“This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:58), or for that matter, the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand with the five barley loaves and the two fish described at the beginning of John 6. What Jesus is describing here is the next step in God’s plan for the salvation of the world, as Jesus promised at the beginning of his ministry (John 3:16-17 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.)

Remember the loaf of bread I showed you. It has the promise of intimacy in that I can go to the bakery and thank Jean and Marie (en francais even!) for their delicious bread. There’s physical health (the bread is good for our bodies). There’s the promise of a better world (we can deal with real people in real communities, we’re not dependent on multinational factories far away). That’s a lot of good things in one loaf of bread. All of these things, intimacy, health, and a larger renewal of the world are infinitely multiplied in our relationship with Jesus the bread of heaven.

At his last Passover meal with his disciples, the meal we remember now as Communion or the Eucharist or the Mass, all of these things come together in a far bigger, far more important way. Jesus knew that he was going to offer himself on the cross, flesh and blood, for the sins of the world. He promised his disciples that he would rise from the dead, and he promised them that his Holy Spirit would remain with them until his return on the last day. He commanded his disciples to tell all the world about him, and he commanded the church to celebrate his message and his resurrection in bread and wine whenever they gathered.

Today isn’t a communion service, but let’s say I put this bread on the altar or on the Lord’s Table. We listen to scripture, we say prayers, we break the bread and share it together. We may accompany it with wine sipped from a chalice or grape juice served in small glasses. If I’m standing here as an Anglican priest, I may wear certain garments to do honour to the occasion. As a Baptist, my colleague and brother in Christ Padre Poley would dress differently and say different prayers. The differences are minor. The same chewy Jesus awaits us with the same promise of salvation. We all come to the Lord’s table with the same needs, needing to be forgiven, wanting to be released from our fear of death, wanting to be sent forth in hope and joy.

I’ve chosen to preach on this gospel even though we won’t be celebrating Communion until September 6th. Such is the way of our chapel worship. But that gives me ample opportunity to challenge you to reflect on the following, what I call the four challenges of communion.

First, how will you prepare for Communion between now and when you next receive it? The church’s tradition has always called for a period of self-examination and penitence before communion. Are you conscious of a rift between you and another believer that needs to be attended to before then? In my case I am very much aware of a recent conversation between myself and another believer which began to set right some longstanding bad feelings between us, and while we have much work to do, we have made a good start, a step towards that new creation that Christ promised.

Second, do you need to reflect on your relationship with the wider church? Communion is meant for all baptized followers of Christ, its meant to be a meal of God’s family, which is why we don’t receive it individually, like our fast-food in-the-car meals. We eat together, we share in God’s gifts and love together. All are equal around the table. If you have a sense that the communal life of St. Mark’s is not what it should be, as one person told me the other day, if you feel we need to love one better as one congregation, what will you do about it?

Thirdly, is it enough that we are fed when others are not fed? The gift of bread and wine at communion shows God’s wish that all be fed and fed abundantly. As the Song of Songs puts it, “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love … Eat, O friends, and drink, yea, drink abundantly” (Song of Solomon 2:4, 5:1). Can we at St. Mark’s do more for those around us who are physically hungry (our food hamper should be brimming) and spiritually starving on the junk food of our culture like the people mentioned today in Ephesians who get through the days looking for the next drunk, the next diversion?

Finally, what does Jesus Christ mean to you? How much do you want him in your life? Jesus made extravagant claims (“I AM the bread that came down from heaven” and the people around him found it too chewy to swallow. He makes the same claims of us and many churches today are backing away from those claims, wanting to respect the beliefs of others in a pluralistic age by focusing on environmental and social issues rather than on the person of Jesus (see here for a particularly harrowing example). Jesus says in John 6 that “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (Jn 6:28). I say that this is good news. Surrounded as we are by spiritual junk food, in a culture that worships youth and sex and power and violence, we need a chewy Jesus, a Saviour who can truly feed us, and who can truly save us.

At the end of John 6, Peter comes to realize this when he says to Jesus “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:67). My friends, the date for the feast is set. The invitations are out. Make yourselves ready. I’ll see you on Sept. 6, when we gather here to break and share the bread of the one who has the words of eternal life.

Friday, August 14, 2009

For Veterans of the Pacific War, Nightmares Persist

From the New York Times
Published: August 13, 2009

A retired postal worker, living not entirely at peace in an adult community called Leisure Village West, recently sent remember-the-date notes to large newspapers and television networks, then followed up with calls that often bounced to voice mail. The 14th of August; remember the date.

He was not asking so much as he was demanding.

Friday is the 14th of August: a dog day to many but always V-J Day to some, including this man, Albert Perdeck. It is the 64th anniversary of the surrender by Japan to end World War II. Attention must be paid, he says with urgency. He is 84.

Albert Perdeck, holding the flag, wants the nation never to forget V-J Day, Aug. 14. “Last year, 2008, there was no mention of this on the news,” Mr. Perdeck wrote

“Last year, 2008, there was no mention of this on the news,” reads his handwritten note to The New York Times. “I am requesting to have the day remembered by your in-depth reporting.”

In addition to “V-J,” as in Victory over Japan, his note contains other abbreviations, including “P.T.S.D.,” as in: “The 17 months I was in combat still causes terrible flashbacks and nightmares of the mutilated bodies I helped to recover.”

Read the whole piece.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Village Elder or Village Idiot?

Master Corporal Mike Wooley, an excellent soldier, accomplished photographer and former comrade from 4RCR, was kind enough to direct me to a cache of photographs maintained by 31 Canadian Brigade Group. I investigated the other day and was pleased to discover some photos of an Exercise entitled Maple Storm 1, which ran at the training base in Meaford, ON in April 2008. The point of the EX, as I recall, was to train reservists on how to conduct security operations in a potentially hostile environment while respecting and assisting the local civilian population (if you think this sounds a bit like Afghanistan, you're right).

The EX required a number of interactors to play the civilians, and lavishly equipped them with as much second hand clothing as the local thrift stores could provide. The result was a group of some twenty "villagers" who, as my former CO observed, looked vaguely like refugees from a 1960s communue. Given my silver hair, I felt that I should be the village idio ... I mean, elder. Froma chaplaincy point of view, it was a great opportunity to spend quality time with the troops while contributing to the success of the EX.

On a warm Saturday afternoon we occupied cement buildings at the Ortona Range FIBUA (urban combat - Fighting In Built Up Areas) as our "village", which the troops came and occupied. This is me as the approaching troops saw me (and yes, that's CF ballistic eyeware, and I'll tell you in a moment why it came in handy):

I thought the umbrella was a nice touch.

Waiting as the troops approached. I don't mind saying that I was a little nervous:

This is why I was nervous:

To put this last picture in context, some of us "civilians" were indeed planted as bad guys, and the troops were tasked with discerning who was whom while maintaining their security. It was a good lesson for all concerned about the ambiguities of the modern theatre of war, where the OPFOR doesn't wear uniforms and you have to defeat the bad guys while winning local hearts and minds. This ambiguity is precisely the reason why we're still in Afghanistan.

As for the ballistic eyewear, I'll limit myself to saying that it came in handy later on, right, Private Shipman?

A Falklands War Hero Is Remembered

(From a British MOD History and Honour News Release, 11 August, 2009)

Members of the Second Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment (also known as the Green Howards), a British Army regiment, travelled to the Falklands Islands to remember one of their own who fell there 27 years ago. Captain John Hamilton was killed in action at the West Falkland village of Port Howard on 10 June, 1982. Before he was killed he had already been awarded the Military Cross for bravery in action during the Falklands campaign, including surviving two helicopter crashes.

Three members of his former regiment, as well as a British military chaplain, dedicated a plaque to his memory and conducted a short service of dedication.

The plaque dedicated to Captain Hamilton:

A British military padre (with the Air Force, judging by his beret and the Air Force crest on his black scarf) conducts the dedication service:

Read the whole article here.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A New Adventure in Atlantic Canada

Kay finished work at Den Hahn's nursery for the summer yesterday and for the first time this summer we had a Sunday together.

After checking out King's Presbyerian Church in New Minas, and enjoying a very warm welcome and a laid-back summer service there (I'm sure we'll be back), we followed the advice of a coworker and drove an hour to Nova Scotia's south shore to check out a coastal feature called The Ovens.

After making our way slowly through a very crowded Mahone Bay, and passing through Lunenburg just as the yearly folk festival was coming to an end, we made our way to Ovens Natural Park.

Since the tide was just coming in we didn't see anything this spectacular:

However, the clifftop walk and the chance to descend to five natural caves was worth the $18 admission to the park. The sea has carved long openings into the side of the cliffs along a stretch of several kilometres, and as the waves rolled in, the sound, amplified inside the caves, reminded me of the humpback whale we met during a tour off Brier Island last summer. Sadly we left the camera at home but there are some photos on the park website here. We are planning to return and camp at one of the clifftop sites there before the summer is over.

As an added bonus, we had a spectacular view of the Bluenoose II, the replica of Nova Scotia's most famous ship, as she sailed out of Lunenburg. The Bluenose II is operated by the Lunenburg Maritime Museum Society and offers tours.

This photo of her from the website pretty much captures what we saw. An unforgettable sight, and one that has us thinking about taking a cruise on her next summer.

A lovely day to be out exploring Nova Scotia., and an appetizer for travels planned later this month during my leave.

Military Goats in the News

This is Shenkin, mascot of the Third Battalion, the Welsh Guards, shown here on parade with his regiment last year. The British army has a long tradition of regimental mascots, a tradition which is loosely copied on this side of the ocean (see my post earlier about the change of command parade for 14 Air Maintenance Squadron). Sadly, the British Ministry of Defence announced recently that Shenkin "has died aged 13. Shenkin, who held the record for the longest-serving regimental goat at 12 years, was chosen from the Queen's own herd of Royal Windsor Whites. With his royal connection, both the Queen and Prince Charles would often ask after Shenkin's well-being."

Military goats are soldiering on in the United States, however.

These goats are part of a Utah Army National Guard project to protect its bases from wildfires.

"Utah Guard Enlists Help From ‘A Few Good Goats’
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP WILLIAMS, Utah, July 28, 2009 – When it comes to fighting wildfires, most people immediately think of water or fire retardant dropped from helicopters and other aircraft, or soot-covered firefighters using hoses and foam to battle back towering blazes.

Few people, however, think of goats as a firefighting tool, but goats are exactly what the Utah National Guard is using to lessen the potential of wildfires at this installation near Salt Lake City.

The Utah Guard has enlisted more than 1,200 goats and sheep to consume sagebrush and oak brush before this year’s fire season, said Sean Hammond, manager of the Utah Guard's Integrated Training Area. Less brush means less fuel for wildfires, he explained.

But contrary to popular belief, goats won’t eat everything."

Read the whole story here.

At presstime, Mad Padre is unaware of any stores involving the Canadian Forces and goats.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Last British Veteran of the Trenches Laid to Rest

I have a soft spot for reenactors, having been one myself, and so these gentlemen dressed as British soldiers of the Great War (or First World War) pay a suitable tribute to Britain's last "Tommy". Harry Patch, who died at the age of 111, served in the trenches as a conscript, and in the Second World War served in Britain's Home Guard.

British Defence News coverage of his funeral can be found here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Virtual World will Aid US Veterans in Their Homecomings

Another piece today on the American Forces Press Service caught my eye, on a project to use the popular website Second Life to assist US veterans in coming home. The comment about how this project may be a 21st century answer to Veterans of Foreign Wars certainly seems to capture the zeitgeist of the age. It would be interesting to know how much of the concept here goes beyond social networking to actual therapeutic activities. MP+

Scientists Use Virtual World to Support Troops
By Ian Graham
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 3, 2009 – Scientists are using virtual online worlds to improve the flow of information and support to servicemembers returning from deployments.

Jacquelyn Morie of the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies discussed the “Transitional Online Post-deployment Soldier Support in Virtual Worlds” project during a July 29 webcast of “Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military” on Pentagon Web radio.

Also known as “Coming Home,” the project will create a space within Second Life -- a 3-D online virtual community -- dedicated to providing camaraderie, support and resources for returning soldiers trying to reintegrate into civilian life.

“Second Life is unique because it allows users to build things and own the things they build,” Morie said. “It has a huge range; whatever people can imagine and dream, they can build there. You’re represented by a 3-D avatar, so you can represent yourself however you feel is appropriate for who you are.”

The project incorporates immersive games, virtual world expertise and virtual human intelligence. Coming Home will be populated with artificial, intelligence-driven virtual characters that can aid veterans in finding support and therapies.

“You can think of it as the VFW hall of the 21st century,” Morie explained. “Most veterans, when they come back, are not collocated into neighborhoods the way people were in World War II. So this gives people a chance to be together, even if they’re widely dispersed.”

Read the whole article.

Three More Canadian Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan

Two Canadian soldiers were killed on Saturday, August 1st, in the Zhari district in Afghanistan by roadside bombs. The Globe and Mail reported that "Two bombs detonated in succession – one to stop the convoy, the second designed to kill the troops after they emerged from their armoured vehicle".

The two dead soldiers are Corporal Christian Bobbitt, aged 23, a combat engineer from the 5th CER based in Valcartier, Quebec, and Sapper Matthieu Allard, aged 21, also of 5 CER.

Corporal Christian Bobbitt

Sapper Matthieu Allard

Their deaths came on a day when the CF announced major successes in capturing bomb-making facilities, a mission that these two engineers were part of. Again from the Globe and Mail:

"The two soldiers’ jobs involved finding and defusing IEDs. Their work was vital to ensuring freedom of movement for both soldiers and civilians, said Major Yannick Pepin, commanding officer of 51 Field Squadron, Canadian Military Engineers. Over the past month, Cpl. Bobbitt and the second soldier were involved in at least half of all seizures of explosives and bomb-making equipment, Gen. Vance added.

Of the 128 Canadians killed in Afghanistan since the start of the military mission, more than half have died as a result of IEDs. They are the most common cause of NATO troop deaths in Afghanistan, and possibly of all violent deaths in the country. Southern Afghanistan has become ground zero for such incidents."

Because this blog wishes to honour and remember all Canadian Forces members killed in Afghanistan, I also wish to remember Private Sebastien Courcy, a member of the Second Battalion, the Royal 22nd Regiment, who was killed in a fall during combat operations on Monday, July 20th (see Globe and Mail coverage here). I was offline while this happened.

Private Sebastien Courcy

These three deaths bring the total of Canadians killed in Afghanistan to 128. Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon them.

Today my thoughts and prayers, with those of my colleagues here at Greenwood, are with the chaplaincy team at CFB Valcartier, who have been working hard to support the families and comrades of these fallen, as well as with my friend Padre George Helou and those chaplains and medical staff who care for the wounded at the military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. God bless you, friends.

News Roundup: US Military, Chaplains Continue to Grapple With Suicide Problem

Several stories in the last few weeks about the problem of suicide in the US military - suicide rates in the US Army were at record levels in 2007 (115 cases) and in 2008 (139 cases).

The American Forces Press Service announced that US Vice Chiefs of Staff were briefing congressional leaders on "The largest study of behavioral health ever undertaken by the Army [which] will examine behavioral health, psychological resilience, suicide risk, suicide-related behaviors and suicide deaths across the active and reserve components over all phases of a soldier’s career". All the chiefs identified support for soldiers after deployment as the greatest need. Gen. William M. Fraser III, Air Force vice chief of staff, said “That’s the most frustrating, is when you provide things and still it’s just not enough. And you never really ever know ‘What else could I have done?’” he asked ruefully. “‘What else could we have done to help them to not lose hope in the face of despair and then commit that fateful act?’” Read the whole article here.

Canon Kendall Harmon's wonderful blog Titus One Nine draw attention to this issue.

The first piece, from the New York Times, describes how four members of a US National Guard unit committed suicide after returning from a deployment in Iraq. "The four suicides, in a unit of roughly 175 soldiers, make the company an extreme example of what experts see as an alarming trend in the years since the invasion of Iraq."

Sgt. Jacob Blaylock, seated left, one of four in his Guard unit to commit suicide, at the grave of Sgt. Brandon Wallace. (New York Times photo)

Read the whole piece here.

The second, more hopeful piece by Vicki Brown of the United Methodist Church News Service describes the work that chaplains are doing to support military members who are struggling with suicidal thoughts.

“Chaplains have specialized training and are gatekeepers for the prevention programs,” said Chaplain Lt. Col. Scott Weichl, behavioral health program manager at the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

“Many, many folks come and talk to us. We are not judgmental, and many who have had serious difficulties just need someone to talk to,” added Weichl, who is a United Methodist chaplain. “We try to discern, to triage who needs to see someone with special training and skills.”

Read the whole article here.

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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