No Family Friday last week because Daddy was super busy. He has been getting some good training, and also teaching some good training to other medics.

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Practicing Hoist operations.
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Instructing some regular army medics on advance trauma care.
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Learning how to do Trigger Point Dry Needling

There is nothing he likes better than teaching or practicing medicine, so it was good to get out of the office for a couple of weeks to get back to his real job.

Meanwhile, the girls have been having some fun of their own. Mommy and Evie have been doing a lot of cooking and canning. They started off with some rolls, which I suppose is really more baking than cooking.

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First you have to add the flour.
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Mommy was exercising some almost super-human patience, because Evie likes to pinch and squish the dough, and doesn’t like to slow down and listen.
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But eventually they got them put together…
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And they came out looking beautiful!

Next, Mommy moved on to ham and bean soup, which she canned in her new pressure canner.

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Poor Daddy, the night Mommy was cooking these he was having trouble finding decent food because of the training schedule. He wished she could FEDEX some of this out!

And finally, just in time for Thanksgiving…

Cranberry Sauce!

Aren’t they gorgeous?! Look at that color!

Kathleen has had some major life changes these past two weeks. After ten years as a vascular ultrasound technologist working with the same group (under two different organizations) she decided it was time to move to a job with a more family friendly schedule.

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It isn’t really goodbye, of course. It’s a small ultrasound world in the area.

No more nights, weekends, holidays or call! And best of all, she will be starting out building her new lab from the ground up. She’s pretty much the boss! She will do great at managing and leading.

It’s also baby sale time again. (No, they are not having a sale on babies at the local L&D). The annual child and baby rummage sale is on, and Kathleen has been working very hard to be ready for it.

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That’s a lot of stuff!

This year she has not only been consigning Evie and Ellie’s old clothes and toys, but also has been putting in consignments for friends and co-workers as well. Of course this means hours of work, but she made a few hundred bucks in consignments, and got Evie and Ellie outfitted for the winter for next to nothing.

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The sale-mobile!

Now that Kathleen is between jobs, so to speak, she took a well deserved weekend break to go out to the ocean with her Mom for some relaxation in the beautiful Pacific Northwest fall weather.

 

 

Apparently in some parts of the world they like to supply their beaches with sunshine, or some nonsense like that. Here in the PNW, we like to be a little more laid back than that. Cloudy all the way, that’s how we like it.

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Can’t let a little cloud get you down!

But there are still some sunny days, and opportunities to enjoy them.

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Evie cannot wait until winter…

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Look, Mommy, I’m skiing!

And then, of course, there was Halloween. Ellie had to help Mommy make Evie’s costume while Evie was at school.

 

And then she helped Mommy carve a pumpkin.

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She was pretty sure that the pumpkin ought to be something to eat.

All ready!

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Family Picture!

Then time to go trick-or-treating! First we visited GeeGee.

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They made a lot of old people’s nights!

And then off to visit Deedee and Papa.

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Papa looks scary!

Unfortunately Halloween was a little too much excitement and sugar for Evie and she turned into a royal pain the rest of the night, and most of the next day and Mommy had to deal with it. But Evie will get over it and be back to herself before long, hopefully.

We had a little bit of a fright earlier this week when Mommy found Ellie eating some mushrooms from the lawn, but it turned out that they were non-toxic and Ellie enjoyed exploring the children’s hospital emergency room once they let her eat and wander around (at least someone had fun there).

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What’s that, Mommy?

And that is all for this weekend. Hopefully we can have a quiet, uneventful, restful weekend with lots of snuggles for Mommy and the girls, while Daddy gets closer and closer to coming home.

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Bye!

God Bless you all and remember to pray for us!

 

Fort_Bragg_SignI have spent a good deal of my life at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It is the home of the Airborne and Special Forces, and I spent a little over two years there in my Q-course days. When I graduated I was fed up with that place. I had spent two years suffering there, what with the heat and the humidity and getting smoked and yelled at and the hardships of Special Forces training. Perhaps it was petty of my, but when I graduated my thought was, “Screw this place! I am done with it. I am never coming back here. Ever!”

I have since proceeded to return to Fort Bragg at least once per year nearly every year since. I do a medic refresher course every other year, of course. But it is also the home of the Special Forces. You want to go to a leadership school? You’re going to Fort Bragg. You want to deploy? You’re going through Fort Bragg. You want to do any cool shooting schools? You’re going to Fort Bragg.

Over time I have lost my hatred of Fort Bragg and eventually I have even come to regard it as a sort of messed up home-away-from-home. A huge part of that reason, both the reason that I stayed sane when I was in the Q-course, and why I don’t mind Bragg nowadays is the Catholic community there.

I have lived on half a dozen different military installations in my life, and I have never seen a Catholic community like St. Michaels in Bragg. The heart and soul of that community is the daily Mass, conducted every day at noon in Pope Chapel (so called because it is on Pope Army Airfield). There is a core crew of about a dozen retirees led by a retired General who attend every single day, but it isn’t only the old people. Every day there are at least a few young active duty folks. There are some single guys and gals who go, there are some married officers and senior enlisted, and often there are wives and children of soldiers there. And there is almost always at least one or two Q-course students.

Why that is the case, I do not know. It has been my experience that while Special Forces has its fair share of avowed atheists and functional atheists, it also has a higher number of truly committed, disciplined men of faith than other parts of the Army. Purely anecdotal, of course, but I can’t help wondering if the stress and danger of the life doesn’t call up a higher level of commitment in some of the men.

I also know that Fort Bragg has been very fortunate in having some extremely dynamic and charismatic Catholic chaplains in the last few years, and in having a couple of civilian priests on staff as well who can provide long term continuity.

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The elderly gentleman in the blue plaid shirt is the General, preparing to lead the Chaplet.

Whatever the reason, it remains the thing I look forward to most whenever I am Braggward bound again. It is like coming home to break away at lunch time, make the five or ten minute drive to Pope Chapel and slip into my old pew near the back on the right. If I can get away early enough I can even take advantage of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and daily confessions. It does my heart good to see all the old soldiers and old soldiers’ wives slowly shuffling in. The General always recognizes me and asks how I am and how my family is doing. The Mass is reverent and celebrated with love and devotion. Afterwards they say the Chaplet of Divine Mercy Novena, or the Rosary. I usually can’t stay.

As I was leaving last time the General told me to stay safe and to do my best to keep the bad guys off their backs. I laughed and said I would, but I rather suspect that those old soldiers and their wives are doing more to keep the evil in this world at bay than any deployment ever will.

Recently I had the terrible duty of attending the funeral of a fellow Special Forces solder. He was an acquaintance of mine, we had gone to Thailand together once and done a few drills together, but other than that I didn’t know him very well.

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Funerals like this are the only reason I keep my Army Service Uniform ready at all times.

This is the third time in the last two years I have attended a funeral for a Special Forces soldier. Each time it gets harder. It also seems like each time the soldier is a little bit closer to me.

This one was especially hard because of his family. When I went to pay my respects at the coffin, there he was lying there in his service uniform with all his tabs and ribbons, and amidst all the regalia was a folded piece of paper with childish scrawl on it that said, “I love you Daddy.”

I could barely keep it together the rest of the day.

When I was in the Q-course I naively looked forward to the day when I would graduate and life would be easier. No more forced marches, never-ending testing, constant scrutiny. I looked forward to the time when I would have, in some sense, “made it.” As C. S. Lewis would say, I had not yet learned that usually the reward for doing one good deed is to be given the opportunity to do another, even harder one.

I learned when I got to the team that I had not made it. I was still doing forced marches (this time on skis, not what I expected, but not that bad. In fact, it became kind of fun). The worse problem was that I was still under scrutiny, I was still being tested until I had earned my place on the team. Even that was not a permanent thing. As they say, “You’re only as good as your last f— up.” Whatever reputation I had was not a made thing, but something I had to live up to every day until, eventually, living it became part of my persona, and then my personality. Even then, the job wasn’t easier, it was harder, because more was riding on my performance than ever before. In the Q course if I failed it affected no one but myself. On the team my failure could cost the life of a teammate or an innocent civilian. This was why team life was so much harder than the Q course.

I left active duty because I did not want to be gone nine months out of every year any more. I stayed in the guard because we were starting a family and needed the insurance. These days I live at home with my family and go to school, most of the time. I workout and train continuously because I still need to maintain some readiness, but it is not my full time job anymore, until I get called up. Then it all becomes real again.

The physical hardship is no harder to deal with than it has ever been, even if I don’t recover from injuries as quickly as I used to. Even so, the job is costlier now. I never worried too much about getting killed in combat because that was the job I had set out to do and there was no one who depended on me. Therefore, I never prayed for physical protection for myself in combat or training. I never prayed that my life would be spared, because there was no one relying on me to live. Now there is. I don’t want my daughters to grow up without me, and I don’t want Kathleen to have to try to fill my place and do the job I promised her I would do.

This means that continuing to be Special Forces now calls for real courage and trust. It takes no courage to face IEDs when you don’t particularly care whether you live or die. It takes very little trust to continue doing a job when the consequences for failure only affect yourself.

Now my family rides on my success or failure, my life or death.

There is no way to face that except by trusting in God. I must fix firmly in my mind that He loves Kathleen and Evie and Ellie far more than I ever could. I do not rely on Him to help me take care of them. I accept that I am one part of His providential care for them that spans eternity. I will live to care for them as long as He chooses to use me for that purpose, but even when I am no longer the instrument He wishes to use, that purpose will still hold. He will never abandon them or forsake them.

Again to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, “Whether He means us to live or to die, Jesus will be our good Lord.”

I pray that this upcoming deployment remains peaceful and that diplomatic solutions can be found for our differences. If there is war, however, I am even willing to pray that I make it out alive, for my family’s sake.

The other day I had an interesting conversation with a buddy of mine. He knew that Ellie had been sick for the first half of the week because I had been a bit tired and groggy at work. On Thursday he asked if she was better and sleeping through the night again. I said that she was better and was almost sleeping through the night, plus Kathleen was home off night shift and home again at night.

“Oh, so she only got sick and couldn’t sleep when you really needed her to be asleep?”

I laughed. “Yep. That’s usually how it goes.”

“Gosh, dude, that sounds rough.”

Not wanting to lie I replied, “Yeah, it can be a little rough sometimes, but it’s still pretty awesome having kids.”

“How’s that?”

So I shared a thought with him that I have been formulating for the last few months. “You know, I think that the absolute worst tragedy that can befall any man, is to have no one who depends on him.”

He looked at me sheepishly. “Are you just trying to make me feel bad now?” (He is single with no kids).

“No, I’m just speaking in general terms. When you have children they depend on you for everything, so when they are at their most needy and demanding, they are also at their most fulfilling.”

He was quiet for a few seconds. Then he said, “I’ve never heard it said like that before. Mostly people just b—h about it.”

It is true, though. Having a wife and children has absorbed my focus so completely in the last few years that I have not had as much mental horsepower to think about myself. I don’t live inside my own head like I used to. I think about myself a little bit less, and I live for others a little bit more. When I do have time to think about myself, I notice that I am happier, more peaceful and more purposeful. Life is just better, as a sort of side effect of being surrounded by people more important than myself.

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I love this happy little goober 🙂

 

I highly recommend it. If you don’t already have someone to live for, find someone. Or just start living for the people around you.

Of course the idea “I am going to live for others so that I will be happier” is completely self-defeating, but that is a topic for another blog.

 

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Insert Man Here

 

 

 

I have spent a good portion of my life in the space between an ALICE pack and a pair of combat boots. I first put on a rucksack at the age of 17, at basic training, when we had to train up for a culminating event which consisted of rucking 12 miles in 3 hours with 35 pounds. I did not realize at the time just how integral a part of my life that piece of equipment would one day become.

I began to take it a bit more seriously when I started training up for Selection in 2003-2005 (completed but did not pass), then again training for Sapper School in 2006 (completed but did not pass), and then again when I got back from Afghanistan in 2008, training up for Selection again, (passed, September 2008). I spent the next two-years of my life in Fort Bragg, slowly and painfully crawling across the wilds of North Carolina with an unhealthy amount of weight on my back.

During that time I averaged between 20 and 30 miles per week on my feet, either rucking, running or both. I remember hearing other guys say, “I cannot wait until I graduate and go to a team, and then I don’t have to do this outdated, leftover Vietnam BS! I’m just going to lift and get freaking huge and never ruck again.” They were saying it, and I was thinking it. I just wanted to get to that place where I could concentrate on getting jacked and tan, without having to spend 5 to 8 hours under the ruck every week.

Then I got to First Special Forces Group and spent the next three years on a mountain team. If you think military mountaineering is about scaling sheer cliffs in shorts, climbing shoes and muscle shirts, think again. It is mostly about… you guessed it. Rucking.Colorado 14er (2)

That’s really what it is. It’s all about carrying heavy things some more, just in steeper and more dangerous terrain; and sometimes over snow.Marines Cross Country CA

What is strange is that over time I have come full circle. I started out a starry-eyed young dreamer longing for fortune and glory and excited about doing real Army things! Rucking was fun because I saw myself sneaking into enemy held territory to wreak havoc on bad guys and rescue good guys. Then it became a chore that I had to do, but I didn’t mind because I was good at it. Then it morphed into a demon. At Selection they talk about the “fear monkey” which is an unfocused sense of panic that jumps on your back and sinks its dirty fingernails into your flesh. If you let it, it will sink its teeth in your neck. We also refer to the rucksack as “the tick” because it settles onto you and sucks the life out of you. It gets to be so painful and miserable that just the sight of the tick brings on the fear monkey. You literally panic at the sight of the rucksack.

That is when men either quit, or don’t. And that makes all the difference. If you don’t quit you will find yourself swallowing the fear and at the bottom of the cup you will find enjoyment. It’s the same thing with rock climbing (I am afraid of heights). I don’t think I have ever been on a rock face without promising myself that if I only get off this one alive, I will never climb again. It works every time. And I came to enjoy climbing.

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It’s freakin’ cool when you get there.

 

You have to push through the fear to find the joy.

I was talking with a younger guy a while ago, a younger guy who is kind of drifting right now, contemplating his options without acting on any of them. I recommended he start rucking.

Right now my brother Adam and I are engaged in a men’s group doing a program called “Exodus 90.” I brought up the what-if, “What if we lived in a society where every boy had to pass selection as a teenager before he was allowed to hold a job or date a girl.” I may write a novel about that someday, if I get the time.

In Special Forces training the rucksack is a tool. It’s purpose is to force each man to that choice: quit or don’t quit. They don’t particularly care whether any individual quits or not. They are in the business of weeding people out who can’t hack it, and selecting people who can. They use the rucksack, partly because it’s tradition, partly because it is a highly useful skill in combat, but also partly because it is not sexy. If they used weightlifting, or crossfit, or something like that, there would be the unfortunate sexy component. You could look in the mirror in the middle of the suck and think, “Dang, I look good!” But they want a challenge that isn’t fun, isn’t interesting, doesn’t look sexy, and you just have to dig deep and do it anyway. If you can’t do something when no one is looking, and when it isn’t sexy, then they don’t want you. The rucksack will weed you out.

In this sense I use the ruck differently than they did at Selection.

I call the ruck “The Man Maker.” I truly believe that for boys having a hard time transitioning to manhood, the ruck is as good a way as any to learn what you need to learn. Its purpose is not to weed out those who can’t hack it, but to teach those who don’t know they can hack it that indeed they can. And to teach those who think they can that in fact they still have a lot to learn. I encourage rucking as a vehicle for bringing people to that place where they either have to quit or keep going, and then teach them that they can keep going.

Of course some will learn, and some will not.

And of course, the rucksack is not the only man maker out there. A herd of cows, a plot of ground, medical school, a fishing boat, a coal mine, a deployment, the seminary, a small business, a farm, a marriage, children; all of these can bring a boy to that same choice. In other words, life will make a man out of you if you accept its challenge.New York Flood 2017 (16)

That is how God designed it. That is the purpose of this world, to bring you to the moment of choice, which is alive and throbbing underneath every moment of our lives. The rucksack is a model for this, and video games are its antithesis.

Just be aware. Rucking will make a man (or a woman) out of you. But it will not make you a Saint.

 

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Training must be about more than personal development in order to be a path to Holiness.

A little over a week ago Kathleen and I were sitting on the couch having a date night. We had already folded the laundry and finished watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which meant that the festivities were winding down towards bed time. (Do we know how to party it up or what?)

 

I switched on my Relevant Radio app on my phone and we listened to a short, two-minute podcast from Father James Kubickia. I cannot for the life of me remember which saint he was talking about, and I cannot find the podcast now. I have tried quite a few times since then, because he shared a quote which shocked and challenged me, and which I have been trying to place ever since. Apparently, whichever saint he was talking about once said in a letter:

“Your desire for suffering has grown sluggish.”

If I had been tracking at the time, that quote would have stopped me in them. It reminded me of something a Special Forces guy said in my hearing when I was at Fort Bragg last year for “leadership” training:

“Our Special Forces ancestors spent years living and fighting in the swamps in Vietnam, and we can’t even get up at 5:00 AM to go work out in an air-conditioned gym.”

Both ideas get at something that has long eaten at me, the idea that we Americans, especially American men, are the lesser sons of great fathers. I thought about both these quotes later that week when I was at the gym in the morning, after finishing my squats and deadlifts. The next thing on my schedule was sprints, and I had planned on doing them outside on the track, but it was in the low 40’s and I really wanted to let the sprints go, and just do a couple miles on the treadmill instead. Half of me couldn’t believe it. “Really? It’s 40 degrees out and you are whining about it being so cold!? What a wuss.”

The other half of me wasn’t listening. It was just complaining: “It’s chilly out and my throat will hurt, and I don’t want to sprint because my legs are tired, and I have to work today and…” yadah, yadah, yadah, yammering uselessly.

I did go out and do some sprints. But I am not what I used to be. There was a time when I had a goal (being Special Forces) that consumed my waking and sleeping and made me hungry for suffering. That desire has grown weak and sluggish, crowded over by the cares of civilian life and an unhealthy attachment to comfort, routine and convenience.

It is right and just that Special Forces should fade out as my reason for getting up in the morning. As a life goal it was always small potatoes, looming large in my mind only because of the smallness of my mind at the time. Being Special Forces would have been a fine goal, if it had been more about taking care of the team and protecting people than about my personal program of self-improvement. Nowadays I have my family, a higher, nobler and worthier goal than SF could ever be. I have medicine as well, which, as long as I think about care of patients rather than the medical detective novel I have running constantly in my own mind, is likewise a worthier goal. And I have more of a relationship with God than I used to, which is the noblest, highest and ultimate goal.

The problem is that these are only intellectual goals. I acknowledge them as projects on my to-do list, and check them off every day, but I do not love them, in the sense that I do not forget myself in pursuit of them. Or at least, I don’t forget myself very often. They don’t draw me so far as to desire suffering in order to be like Jesus.

When whichever saint it was said, “Your desire for suffering has grown sluggish” I think he was using that desire as a measure for love, and what he was really saying was, “Your love has grown sluggish and it no longer drives you to make sacrifices for God or neighbor.”

His accusation rings true in my soul. WOF crucifixion

Every morning I get up and pray. It is a struggle. Almost every day I have to force myself to

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Borrowed from https://www.catholiccompany.com/getfed/9-tips-focus-mass/

get out of bed, make coffee, kneel in front of the crucifix and begin my prayers. I have to force myself to keep my mind on the words, on the presence of Jesus, on what I am doing and who I am doing it with. It isn’t even a matter of keeping my mind there, so much as continually bringing it back.

Over and over again I bring it back, usually with a sigh, to the task at hand, which is usually simply to trust in the Presence of God in the midst of a staticky sort of emptiness.

If this sounds discouraging, it isn’t. I am describing what my prayer life is like at this time in my life, but I am not complaining about it. After all, I have a prayer life. That is a gift. I didn’t always have a prayer life. Millions of people around the world do not have a prayer life. The mere fact that I do pray is a blessing and I am grateful for it.

In fact, that is the big danger, that I will become pleased with myself. I can easily become complacent and lose what intensity I do have. Prayer and training are much the same, in that regard. The hard part is remembering what they are all about, remembering that we are at war.

I saw it all the time in the Army, even when I was on active duty. I even saw it in Special Forces, from time to time. When you are in garrison in peace time, or only pulling occasional easy missions to Thailand or Nepal or Europe, where all you really have to do is train and party with our allies for a few weeks, it is easy to feel like the training doesn’t really matter. Everyone laughs at the crusty old team sergeant who always insists on that one extra run through the shoot house, or dragging out the tourniquets and running some trauma training. Sometimes it takes a funeral to bring it home to you.

We are at war. Training matters because training saves lives. And it isn’t the big, flashy, sexy training events with people jumping out of airplanes into the water and swimming up onto the beach with SCUBA gear. That is good for movies and recruiting videos and making generals feel good about their career choices. The real business of saving lives is the continuous, repetitive daily practice of the same old thing: drawing and firing the pistol; firing the rifle; putting on a tourniquet; whipping together a pressure dressing; running, rucking or lifting; managing vital signs; talking to people who want to kill you, or who just don’t like you; building common ground with ideologues from either side of the fence. These skills are basic, lifesaving, and necessary, and they save lives.

They are also boring.

I have an A-type silhouette on the wall in my garage and a training pistol that fires a laser instead of a bullet when you pull the trigger. Most days, before I leave for school (after morning prayer) I dry fire that or my rifle a few times, practicing my basic stance, presentation, sight picture, and movement, with and without body armor. It takes a couple of minutes to get in a few dozen good quality repetitions. Sometimes I feel like it’s a few minutes I could do without.

I do it because I am a husband and father, and also a soldier, and someday the muscle memory I build a little bit every day may be the difference between me coming home to my family or not. When I find that I am forgetting that, and starting to get lazy with my shooting or at the gym, or in my medical training, I deliberately remind myself.

We are at war.

Prayer is similar, but even more serious. I train for combat a little every day, but when I pray it is not just training. It is the real deal. That is actual spiritual warfare. In the air all around us, all the time, demonic and angelic forces are continuously locked in an epic struggle. The devils and all the powers of darkness and hate are ranged against us humans. All of us. Even our human enemies are less our enemies than our fellow casualties in this cosmic struggle.

Prayer is an act of war, an act of renewing our commitment to being on the side of Jesus and all the Saints and Angels. It is my daily call for orders, and taking my station, asking for protection for my family and friends, and making sure that my supplies and commo and gear are set before I go out into the day. It is also an offensive weapon, a direct strike against the devil.

There is no more important thing I do in any day than my first hour of prayer.

It is life and death.

The only hard part is remembering that.

A few weeks ago I had to make a trip back to the place of my origin as a Special Forces Soldier, a.k.a. Fort Bragg, North Carolina. While there I was able to chat with my younger brother Matthew, who is the last of the brothers still on active duty, although his time is winding down. He was in the Q-course for a while, but eventually decided that Special Forces was not his path, and dropped out. Now he is in the infantry, preparing to get out early next year.

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We had the opportunity to hang out and eat dinner at a charmingly psychedelic little pizza joint called “The Mellow Mushroom,” and we talked a bit about his plans and about mine, and the point of Special Forces, or the Army in general. I was recommending he consider joining the National Guard, citing the reasons that I transferred to the NG rather than get out completely:

  1. Tuition assistance: I have the Post 9/11 GI bill, but financially it makes more sense to save that for the high cost university courses that I start next year. In the meantime, the Guard offers $4500/year towards a degree plan, which can cover a whole lot of community college, saving the Post 9/11 for the big ticket courses in Junior and Senior year, or in my case, the Masters program.
  2. Tricare Reserve Select: for a single guy you can get full coverage for <$100/month, and for a family full coverage is <$300/month. When we found out we were pregnant with Evie that suddenly became the deciding factor for going Guard. It cost us less than $200 total to have her at the hospital by C-section. In our current world of Obamacare, you cannot find a better deal.
  3. Keep the retirement going: I had invested 12 years already. By the time I am 39 I will be able to retire from the Guard and have a pension waiting for me when I hit 65 (or a little younger, based on combat deployments).

These were all practical and valid reasons for going National Guard, but in talking with my brother, and being in training with Active Duty guys again, I realized that these weren’t the whole stories.

The deeper issue was that I like it.

rest dayWhen asked why I went Special Forces in the first place, the closest I can come to a concise answer is, “To see if I could do it.” It is not being flippant. That was the major part of my motivation, just to see if I could gut through and be among the best. I never did, and still do not, consider myself one of the best. In terms of Special Forces guys I am pretty average in capabilities and way outside the norm in personality and priorities. In fact, my first year in group was a big, “What the hell have I gotten myself into!?” time.

But having gutted through and succeeded at some level; having pushed my limits beyond what I had expected, and in ways I never expected; having sacrificed a good deal of life, and some more worthwhile things to achieve a silly green hat; in short, having paid the price, I learned that I like it.

I don’t necessarily enjoy sucking at life, but I enjoy being the sort of person who can suck at life and not give up. I don’t like the hardship, and the constantly critical environment, the need to prove yourself everyday or risk letting your team down. But on the other hand, I like the kind of person that living and even thriving in that environment has made me.

But more than that I like being around the kind of guys that like that sort of thing. I may not like heights, but I like being in the gang of guys that does. I like that I can at least keep up with the group, and that it pushes me to be better than I ever could be on my own.

You see, in Group we lived life at such a high level of intensity. Constant self-improvement was not optional, it was a life-and-death serious business. It was what we did. I try to maintain that attitude in my daily life on the civilian side, with a program of constant study, daily prayer, and regular physical training, but on the civilian side you are always the odd man out. People look at you funny.

sfauc_shoothouse_63_by_djmonkeyboy

When I go back to the SF world for short stretches it is refreshing to be around the sort of folks who don’t find it weird when you tell them that you are trying to deadlift 500 pounds, or that you practice dry-fire from a concealed holster every day, or that you are trying to learn a foreign language, study the history of Western civilization from Ancient Rome to modern America, get a Masters degree, perfect the one-armed pullup, staff and manage a trip overseas, and keep your two mile time under 13:20, all while maintaining a family and home life. Guys who will nod and say, “That’s cool. Here’s what I did when I was trying to train up to one-armed pullups,”or “Have you checked out the S.I.R.T. laser trainer? That’s what I use for dry-fire.”

It is cool to be around people who also have no time for video games or even seeing most of the new movies that come out, because they are too busy trying to be more!

But the catch is that if you ask most of these guys why they do all this, and if you asked me, it is most often not for noble, altruistic reasons like, “To defend my country,” “To make the world a better place,” “To liberate the oppressed.” A few actually do want to do all those things, but most do it simply because they like it. We like getting high on getting paid to do badass things that most other people can only do on video games. Even those (like me) who do actually want to liberate the oppressed, have long since learned that De Opresso Liber is less a mission statement than a catchphrase.

That’s why when I stay on Active Duty for long periods of time I become gradually more depressed and less motivated. Sure, the job is fun, but what is it for?

laskoIt’s all very well to spend your life trying to be a warrior monk, but if it isn’t about something bigger than yourself it’s ultimately meaningless and unsatisfying. Like it or not, America’s global interests are not a sufficient why. Self-improvement for its own sake is a higher goal than serving America’s interests because the human person will last forever while America is nothing more than a temporary political construct, with at best a few hundred years of use left in it.

At home I have a purpose. I get up early so that I can pray and workout, but after that I have to get things ready for when Kathleen and Evie wake up (breakfast, clothes, pack for work or school, etc.) and once they do get up there is constant work to be done and play to be played. When I leave for work or school I am trying to perform the best I can at these tasks so that I will provide or care for these two people. When I get home there is the practical, hands on work of feeding and clothing to be done (in the form of dishes, cooking, laundry, etc.)

From the time they wake up until the time we all go to bed, my time is not my own. It belongs to my family and its sole purpose is to provide or care for them. This is ultimately more satisfying than shooting, training, martial arts, fitness, and even reading, study and doing medicine.

In the end, glorifying God and serving people are the only two things I have found that carry with them an abiding sense of meaning.

My latest post is up at Ignitum Today. Check it out at:

Tactical Pause

 

*To “Wear your red hat” is a slang term in Army planning for the process of viewing a situation from the point of view of an enemy.

A while back, during some Army training, I had the opportunity to participate in a planning exercise. The scenario was that a small team of Special Forces guys (us) was going to be inserted into a country that had recently suffered a violent coup. We were to link up with the remnants of the legitimate government and begin working to enable them to cooperate with conventional U.S. forces in order to retake their country.

It’s a pretty standard scenario for SF, and has been since our legacy days with the OSS in WWII. That was a large part of the “special” warfare, preparing resistance forces to work with the Allies when they arrived. The details of the scenario don’t really matter, except to note that in our fictional Area of Operations (AO) there was an enemy infantry division of 6,000 troops garrisoned in the capital.

Now, part of the planning process involves looking at the entire situation from the enemy’s perspective and planning what they would do so that we can develop contingencies for our own plans. The official term is “war-gaming” but we often call it “wearing the red hat.” Of course the potential range of activities for the enemy is virtually limitless and it is impossible to foresee and plan for every contingency, so instead, by convention, we limit ourselves to two specific courses of action (COAs). These are the most likely (MLCOA) and most dangerous (MDCOA).

Without getting into all the details, we decided that the MLCOA was for the enemy to keep doing what they were doing in their area, continuing to consolidate their hold on the country, register people, disarm, conduct atrocities and war crimes and maybe launch an occasional small scale anti-guerrilla operation. The MDCOA, we decided, would be for them to take that division sized element, mass all 6000 troops in the various small towns throughout the AO, and conduct huge sweeping search maneuvers all through our territory. We reasoned that this was the most dangerous because it would pin us down and cause us to be surrounded by a vastly superior force, and eventually fixed and destroyed by their superior firepower.

I don’t know about you, but certain death usually counts as “most dangerous” in my book.

That was what we came up with, and that was what we briefed to the senior SF officer who was playing the role of our task force commander. After we had finished explaining that, we ended up contradicting ourselves by saying that our plan was deliberately to trigger that MDCOA to divert the enemy’s attention away from the oncoming friendly forces (and hope that our people could get to us before they did). Then we asked him if he had any feedback.

65076032He did.

“So, your MDCOA. If that is what you guys are trying to do to facilitate the war effort, why do you consider it the most dangerous?”

We reiterated the line about enemy troops massing, fixing, battering us with artillery, etc.

“I get that,” he said. “And yeah, I grant you having 6,000 dudes chasing you through the woods is probably pretty dangerous. But is it dangerous to you or to the mission?”

We were silent.

“I guess what I am saying is, if you can disrupt these guys enough that they feel they have to send in an entire division to hunt you down, some people would consider that a good example of you winning. That is what is going to draw the people to your side. That is what is going to make way for the cavalry to come in guns blazing and clean house. So yeah, you might get killed, but them coming after you isn’t going to damage the overall mission.”

wpaqixhAs we digested that he went on: “You know what would damage the overall mission? If they didn’t come after you, all guns blazing. What if, instead of launching division sized sweep and clear, they started beefing up their secret police? Buying out the local citizens? Sending out propaganda messages that de-legitimize everything you do? Bribe your fighters with offers of power, money and privilege? What if they slowly stripped away your support and then sent in little assassin cells to hunt you down quietly? Or even just capture you and send you out of the country? Do you think that would be more dangerous to your mission?”

All of a sudden it was a paradigm shift. We had been thinking in terms of what was most dangerous to us, and from a purely conventional mindset as well. Now we had to think what was most dangerous to the mission, in an atmosphere where the enemy could use any and every dirty trick in the book to get us.

It got me thinking. Isn’t that kind of how it goes in the Spiritual Warfare? Have you ever had the experience of trying to grow spiritually, maybe during lent, or Holy Week, or maybe you decide to start a novena or a ministry project, or a new morning prayer routine? And did you ever find that plan instantly beset on all sides by temptations, distractions, and even outright spiritual panic?

If you’re like me your first thought when that happens is, “What am I doing wrong?”

However, as a priest said to me in confession once, the question in such situations might well be, “What am I doing right?”

What is it that has caused Satan to ramp up his game against me? Why is he massing troops and conducting counter-guerrilla operations? Unlike in an earthly war where we might want to scale back whatever we are doing that triggered that, in the spiritual warfare, once we figure that out we need to keep doing it. Even when it feels like we are hemmed in on all sides and taking indirect fire every five minutes and about to be wiped out, we need to keep doing what we are doing. That is not his most dangerous COA. It is his most desperate COA. We have superior firepower on our side (that angelic air-force is badass!) and we cannot lose, even if we die.

I will tell you what his real MDCOA is. It’s that slow, steady, creeping discouragement, as prayer-spiritual-warfare-thumbhe slowly and methodically strips away all of our bases of support. Whenever he can convince us to neglect prayer, that’s a supply run that never happened. Avoiding Mass or confession is like not going out to get our resupply bundles.

Worse if he can bribe us with promises of money, power or privilege (or even just comfortableness) to give up Sunday Mass, or to commit a mortal sin. (Can you imagine the damage a Special Forces Team could do to a war effort if while they were inserted behind enemy lines they periodically defected to the enemy? That is what happens every Sunday that we do not go to Mass. That happens every time we commit a mortal sin.)

I guess what I am saying is don’t be discouraged by temptations, or even by sins. Just keep trusting and plugging away (this doesn’t mean be stupid about not avoid occasions of sin). Keep coming back to God, trusting that His mercy and love are enough and even my less than stellar attitude in the armpit end of a losing battle is raw material that He will use to bring about victory.

Absolute trust.

And damn the torpedoes! Full Steam Ahead!