Monday, May 28, 2012

A Tribute To The Arlington Ladies and our Fallen

ONE AFTERNOON towards the end of March, 200 mourners slowly trekked under a bright blue sky to the plot where 20-year-old Army Pfc. Michael Anthony Arciola was about to become the 123rd soldier killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Arciola, a recipient of both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, was shot and killed on patrol in Al Ramadi on February 15. The larger than usual crowd was no surprise. The young man had been so well loved in his hometown of Elmsford, New York, that more than a thousand people came to his memorial service there. Dying young carries with it an implicit sense of tragedy that draws people -- emotionally and physically -- to it.

Nevertheless, Pfc. Arciola was not the only one laid to rest that Friday at Arlington. Sixteen other servicemen, most of them veterans many years older than Arciola, were likewise buried. An average week at Arlington will see between 80 and 100 burials on its 612 acres, and the final week of March was within that margin. Arciola's funeral was the largest the cemetery had held in a few weeks. Others attracted dozens, few or none to mourn their passing. Yes, a smattering had no friends or loved ones in attendance at all. When TAPS was sounded there were some who had none to salute their bravery. TAPS rang a hollow sound to the heavens crying out a plea to God to honor our lonely fallen.

As in most matters, however, the military prefers to focus on cohesion rather than dissension; on the ties that bind rather than the walls that separate. This is as true of funerals as it is of boot camp. Most people are aware of one aspect of this, the Honor Guard. But there is another unifying element, much less publicized than the 21-gun salute, but just as important in both a practical and symbolic sense. It comes in the form of a conservatively dressed woman who -- whether amongst a throng of mourners, seated alongside the family, or standing as the sole attendee -- is there to help shepherd the fallen soldier during his final mile.

These volunteer women are known as "The Arlington Ladies." They attend every funeral at Arlington to ensure, first and foremost, that no soldier is ever buried with no one in attendance, and second, to serve the needs of family members, whether they are present at the funeral or not.

Normally it isn't difficult to get someone to go on record about a noble pursuit. The first reaction to the prospect of a laudatory article is rarely reticence. But this group of no-nonsense women did not jump at the chance to talk about themselves. In fact, they were surprisingly difficult to track down at all. This is probably at least partially because the vast majority of Arlington Ladies are either retired servicewomen themselves or from military families, a culture not given to bragging.

"They don't seek publicity," Army Major Kevin Stroop, a regimental chaplain who performs funerals at Arlington, said. "What they do here is absolutely vital to our mission, but those moments they share with the families and our servicemen and women are intensely personal. The Arlington Ladies, as a group, really are committed to keeping those moments and their work sacred."

When I finally get Linda Willey, wife of a retired Air Force Colonel and a 13-year veteran of the Arlington Ladies, on the phone, she is effusive and cordial, but makes it plain she is not looking for any outside affirmation of what she does.

"We're here to pay our respects and support the families of those lost," Willey said. "We don't want a pat on the back or any gold stars. This is about something bigger than flaunting what we do for brownie points."

Interviews with other Arlington Ladies quickly make it clear that Willey's claims are not frivolous false modesty, but truth. There is, it seems, still such a thing as selfless service.

THE STORY OF THE ARLINGTON LADIES stretches back to a day in 1948 when Air Force Chief of Staff General Hoyt Vandenberg happened upon the funeral of an airman at Arlington. What he saw disturbed him: There wasn't a soul at the service, save the chaplain and the Honor Guard members conducting it. Vandenberg, the nephew of the legendary Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg, was about as dedicated an airman as they come. After winning the Distinguished Service Medal and Silver Star for his service during and tactical planning of the Normandy invasion, Vandenberg began a dizzying series of promotions that landed him in the Air Force's top spot at the sprightly age of 49. He took pride in defending his men from the enemy and Washington bureaucrats alike. It did not sit well with him to watch a fellow airman make this final journey alone.

When he brought this black cloud of concern home, his wife Gladys worked to soothe her husband's worries by personally attending Air Force personnel burials and founding the Arlington Committee. Thus, an Arlington institution -- eventually to become known as the Arlington Ladies -- was born. The complimentary Army Arlington Ladies was founded in 1972, with the Navy following suit in 1985. The Marine Corps, true to its separate nature, does not have a contingent of Arlington Ladies, but a representative of the Commandant is at every funeral. There are now more than 160 active Arlington Ladies.

The Arlington Ladies' mission has evolved since those early days. If there are family members present, an Arlington Lady will deliver a personal note of condolence from the chief of staff's office. They also write their own note of condolence, based upon an information sheet provided by the government with dates of service, awards given, and name of next of kin, as well as any other information the chaplain can provide.

"You get pretty good at reading between lines," Willey said. "When you see what period they served in, you have a good idea of what that person may have gone through."

If family is unable to attend a funeral, an Arlington Lady will send a letter describing the service and the day, right down to the sounds and smells in the air.

Lord God, this day we honor our fallen in battle. John 15:13 says "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."Today I honor you my brothers in arms, LT(no one ever called you by your name LOL), Vaughn, Carter, Richard, James, Pete, Thomas, Anthony, Mark, Michael D, and Holcolm. I miss you all! There is an empty space in my life that you occupied. God Speed my friends, my brothers in arms!

See you next blog,

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What I Learned from Give me Fifty! NOW! (cont'd)

After we were herded onto the plane at the airport, the sergeant paid special attention to where I was sitting and made it point to let me know he was watching me. I nodded, smiling, and said that I recognized his God status for the next few weeks. He looked at me and said, "you don't even know the half of it, son! I have plans for your future and when it is all said and done I guess we will find out what you're made of. You won't be smiling very much longer, I promise!" He kept his word.

It was a very warm August night when the plane landed in lovely El Paso, Texas. I grew up in Texas and was very familiar with summer nights that could be oppressive, but believe me when I tell you that my mother's oven had nothing over that El Paso night. The sergeant had somehow spawned a bevy of sergeants at the troop unloading area. They were thick as flies over cow dung and all of them shouting orders. Chaos is a word that comes to mind for a new recruit listening to all of the screaming orders we heard that night. However, my favorite drill sergeant had somehow brought order out of chaos as we loaded the troop buses for our trip to the base.

Arriving at 9:00PM at night to the base, we were ordered off the buses and told to stand in straight line in front of the bus. We had a glimpse of what close-order drill was going to be like as we measured-off of our arms distance to the man next to us and then were ordered to close ranks again. This exercise we repeated several times while we were individually humiliated for our dress, our hair styles, and our overall shabby appearance. The first thing we learned was how to tell military time. I was asked what time it was, "Sir, according to my Timex watch it is 9:28PM! I said this and was very proud of the fact that I knew my watch was accurate because I had checked the time at the airport terminal.

"GAWDDAMMITT WERE YOU JUST BORN STUPID OR JUST HAVE A SUDDEN ATTACK OF IT? What did I tell you about calling me sir, you stupid maggot? What is your name?"

"Ted, sir...uh I mean Sergeant, I replied hastily. I would also like the sergeant to know I have a very well developed brain."


While I knew that the territory I stood in was fully owned by the drill instructors, I still felt it was my responsibility to correct wrong thinking. I nodded in the affirmative and told him that my mother and father would be upset to hear that. I explained that I had been up since 5:30 that morning and was just tired which is why I forgot to call him by his proper name.

"DAMMIT MAGGOT you will learn that it was zero five-thirty that you were up at. Earlier you made another BIG ONE when I asked you what time it was. It is now twenty-forty-one hours according to my Bulova watch...and I assure you I have taken way your first name for the duration of your stay at my facility. You will find that you are not even an individual anymore when I am done with you PRIVATE!"

I pointed out that at the time he asked for the time was, in fact, 9:28PM, and had he not spent the last twelve minutes chewing us out, I would have been correct. THAT DID IT! THAT WAS THE STRAW THAT BROKE THE CAMEL'S BACK!


After giving a very almost military brace at attention I dropped and gave the required twenty push-ups. The drill sergeant placed his hand under my chest and counted off. I felt I had done a pretty proficient job but that was not his opinion. So he took a consensus and asked the assembly of new recruits if they thought I gave the proper military push-up? The answer was, of course, meant to intimidate the group into agreeing with what came next. It worked in my disfavor and I gave thirty more push-ups with a very tired and over-heated body. You could still fry an egg on that asphalt I was doing push-ups on.


See you next blog,

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Defining Our Relationships

For the miserably married, thinking of marriage, and soon to be married:

Defining Our Relationships

At the heart of Christianity is the doctrine of the mystical union of the believer with Christ. The New Testament does not only call us to believe in Christ, but to believe into Christ. Faith links us directly into Christ. We become in Him and He in us. This mysterious union is carried over into the relationship between Christ and the church. The church is His bride, whom He has brought into a real, profound, and powerful union.

We normally assume that the image of the church as the bride of Christ is a metaphor borrowed from the institution of human marriage. In this case, the earthly serves as the model for the heavenly. Perhaps that is the intent of Scripture. Actually the earthly estate of marriage is based on the heavenly model of the mystical union of Christ and His bride not the Godhead. Marriage is the reflection of the heavenly reality, not the basis for a heavenly image. All the more reason to examine our motives for marriage in the first place.

Ephesians 5:21-33 is explicit in what the ideal marriage would be like. Yet everyday Christian men and women have found themselves in a marriage that is not sustainable. Women become terribly abused because they did not choose wisely and find themselves and their children subject to demonic oppression in the home that is supposed to be a safe environment. Many have found they married for all the wrong reasons and therefore chose badly in a mate they bonded to. When a choosing a mate it is VERY IMPORTANT to view their entire character, not find reasons for convenience to marry just because the situation fits your loneliness or need of a family life. If the church had done it's job in teaching how to pick a mate for life(ie looking at integrity, entire character), many divorces would never had happened in the first place. It is impossible to give due honor or even submit to a fool if a fool is what you married. In fact, the Bible commands you to leave a fool and his folly. Why set yourself up for a divorce by not taking into account the full spectrum of one's character before marriage? Therefore, choose wisely whom you decide to bond with.

The perfect unity of persons existed in eternity in the nature of the Trinity itself. Though the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not “one flesh,” they are ONE being in perfect eternal harmony. In the Godhead, there is no possibility of divorce. It is a union that cannot and will not be broken. It is the eternal pattern of relationship that defines our human relationship. We share with God not only an analogy of being, but also an analogy of relationship. It is found in the mystery of a good marriage.

Ephesians 5:21-33

Once again, if you find you are indeed in an abusive relationship, physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual please go and read what Pastor Crippen has to offer those in terrible relationships. Don't be afraid to get help. The problem will only get worse!

 More Weapons in the Abuser's Arsenal
One aspect of sin is that it feeds on power and control. When things are going "well" in a relationship, the abuser's control and power are really not very evident. There even appears to be a pleasant, co-equal relationship, and the abuser hates this. He then launches his surprise attack, at least in part to remind his victim and himself that HE is in control. Sin in its very nature is malevolent.

Abuse and the Doctrine of Headship and Submission
Headship, as we will see in our examination of 1 Peter 3 and Ephesians 5, is not something that means a wife is bound to obey her husband's every whim. The husband is to lead his wife "in the Lord," and this does not mean that a wife is obligated to take abusive behavior as her lot.

From Pastor Crippen in his book A Cry For Justice Chapter on Marriage Vows and Divorce Please READ THE WHOLE CHAPTER and SCRIPTURES!
In the case of abuse in marriage: the abuse victim is NOT the one “committing” the divorce when he or she decides the marriage contract has been rendered null and void.  That has already been accomplished by the abuser who has refused to love, honor, and cherish as he vowed before God to do.  The church continues, in many cases, to do great harm and injustice to abuse victims when we insist that if she files for divorce, she is actually the one who is effecting the divorce and therefore, guilty before God.  All the victim is doing is suing for the court to recognize that the marriage contract has been broken.  We even use that legal language – suing for divorce.

Why is it that we seem to hold credit card agreements and home mortgages in higher esteem than the marriage contract? What person in their right mind would ever enter into a contract, knowing that the other party can violate the terms to our harm, and yet there will be nothing we can do to get out of the contract?

In Christ,
See you next blog when I continue ...Give Me Fifty

Saturday, May 5, 2012

What I Learned from Give me Fifty! NOW!

A very close friend of mine asked me to tell her something funny about myself. I haven't been feeling very "FUN" lately but that is another story someday. In fact, as important as the subject is that I have been covering I could not help but think of some of my antics the first two weeks of army life in 1969.

To say that I grew up with a "mouth" on me is akin to calling the 100,000 ton carrier USS Ronald Reagan a boat.. I conditioned myself to have the last word on just about everything authoritarian even though I knew there would be "hell to pay." Rarely was it a retort the receiver wanted to hear witty, funny or not. I was tall but skinny as a rail fence. In fact, my grandmother used to tell me I was so skinny that I had to run around in the shower to get wet! I grew up under a tall, large-boned dictator-type father. His WORD WAS THE HOLY GRAIL and not to be questioned; at least not by mere mortals like me. However, no matter how an order was given by him it was meant to be his way or the highway. I took these opportunities  to reject the status quo and offer some retort to demonstrate my disdain.  To combat my fear of him and his domination of everything around him I developed quite a mouth to show contempt of his governance. Sometimes it paid to stand my ground other times not so well as the consequences could be painful. 

This story begins when it came time to leave my "happy home" and start out on my own adventure. I had a summer break-up with my high school girlfriend much to the delight of her brother. When she and I decided we had caused each other enough pain we reconciled. This was considered a challenge to him to thwart the romance and point me to the horizon of my future. Robert was trouble looking for a place to happen. Anyway, to make a long story short, he convinced me and some buddies to join the army with him. I had no idea when we took the armed forces testing that he had already flunked it twice...yep, bait like a fish on a hook! Vietnam was really heating up. I really had nothing to lose by joining though. My draft number was low so joining at least let me fill out the "Armed Forces Dream Sheet" and pick my MOS. I chose the Army as my choice of service since Freeman men have served for decades in defending their country. I decided if I had to go, I was at least going to get the most and best training the US Army had to offer. I wasn't about to get killed because of my own stupidity. The enemy was going to have to work for it if they were intent on taking my life.

At the army induction center I took the oath along with all of the others and felt my skinny chest swell at least another 1/2 inch. However, in spite of my new found patriotism, my mouth came with me. Before getting on the bus I found a drill sergeant that I took a particular dislike to and decided I was going to make him regret his authority over me (fools rush in where angels fear to tread). He herded us onto the bus like cattle, barking like a mad dog the entire time. I sat in the front seat beside the driver and he entered the bus. Closing the door behind him and turning to sit on his throne on the front seat he found a raw recruit had dared to occupy the exalted place.

"You are occupying my seat...move it!" he barked motioning me to the back as if he had a wand.

"There is plenty of room for both of us," I said as I moved closer to the window.

"I'm gonna tell you one more time...get the hell outta my seat and get to the back where I don't have to see your ugly face!" he screamed.

I grinned and that was my first mistake as I had no intention of letting him have his way. He pulled me outta  the seat and told the bus driver to stop on Main Street at a curb. He pushed me out the door and told me to drop. I assumed the position of one caught in a bank robbery with my hands behind my head and spread eagle. It was all his fault for not being more explicit as to what he clearly wanted, I told myself.

Fuming at my ignorance he yelled out. "Give me fifty right NOW!"

I asked him, "Fifty what?"

"Fifty push-ups Gawddammit, and they better look like push-ups or we will be here all damn day long just for you Sunshine!"

I gave fifty half-hearted push-ups and faked a collapse into a heap on the ground. Much applause greeted my return to the bus. The drill sergeant screamed for silence or all of them would be doing push-ups all night long.

Glaring at me, "Oh, a wise guy! I've got plans for you Sunshine," giving me a toothy grin.

I said, "Whatever you say sergeant."

"That's DRILL SERGEANT to you!" he screamed out.

"Yes, sir! Sir!"

"Don't call me sir, MAGGOT! I work for a living. Now git your sorry ass to the back of the bus!"

I said nothing but looked for another seat, feeling quite confident that I had won that contest of wills. Little did I know what sadistic pleasure that night would hold for my new-found adversary...
to be continued

See you next blog,

Risky Business

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