Friday, August 31, 2012

On The Road Again

There are days when you feel that you spend your entire life in transit.

One of the things that got me really excited about military chaplaincy was the concept of “deck-plate ministry”.  While I would hesitate to call what I do “ministry” (mostly because it sounds way too Christian), I liked the idea that my rabbinate would be “pounding the deck plates” (a “deck” aboard a ship is what you might call a “floor”).  In our plan of the day, RP and I almost always set aside a block of time for “infiltration”.  Regardless of the term used, my rabbinate was supposed to be away from my desk.

Over the past week, this has certainly been true – but not necessarily in the good way.  Between typhoons, SCUBA classes (more on this next week), trainings and meetings, I sometimes feel that I am never where I am needed.

Today, I spent hours in a car commuting from Camp Foster (home) to Camp Hansen (work) to Camp Courtney (very important training on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response) to Camp Hansen (follow up work) to Camp Foster (almost, because then I had to turn around and go back) to Camp Hansen (Battalion Formation and associated warranted complaining) to return to Camp Foster.  For those calculating time, each drive is at least 30 minutes.

The problem is that all of those extra events are all (or mostly) worthwhile.  All the meetings are for a good cause, and they help coordinate people so that we don’t spend another 15 hours in meetings.

The training today was on Chaplains and Religious Program Specialists involvement in Sexual Assault Response and Prevention (SAPR).  Right now, this a huge program in the Marine Corps – and a truly worthy way to spend my time (I could spend an entire blog post talking about the interesting models of reporting that are in effect in the military and the ethical questions created in the system).

I also spent time today attending meetings about suicide and PTSD, particularly important in a Battalion that has not yet been out of Afghanistan for 90 days.

And, of course, there are trouble makers, bored kids with vivid imaginations, alcohol incidents, drug incidents: all the things that one can expect to happen when you get a few thousand 19-23 year olds together and plan to leave for the weekend.

We meet to coordinate plans on how to get them help; on how to prevent certain people who are on the verge of being NJPed (getting some form of Non-Judicial Punishment that will certainly end any career prospects) from ruining their prospects; on how to prevent them from causing trouble in the first place.

But it’s the traffic that’s the killer.  The lines at the tollbooths on the expressway.  The ill-timed traffic lights.  The scooters darting in and out of traffic.  The AFN Radio disc-jockeys.  And the monotony.

My plate is full, but luckily the next couple weeks are looking pretty quiet (not really, but maybe a smile and some optimism will make it so)!

Friday, August 17, 2012

a fresh pair of eyes

August is not the best time to visit Japan. For one thing, it’s HOT. And HUMID. Also, we sometimes have typhoons during the summer. Nevertheless, my parents operate on relatively limited schedules and so, braving the heat, humidity, and the possibility of typhoons, they arrived in Okinawa on August 2 for a two-week whirlwind tour of Japan. 

I think I can say with confidence that Japan had never been on my parents’ must-visit list. In fact, I'm quite sure there are MANY places they would rather have spent their vacation time. And yet, as soon as Yoni and I got word we would be stationed in Okinawa, my parents promised they would visit us here. And as long as they were making a trip to Japan, they figured they would try to see more than just Okinawa. In the end, they decided to spend one week here in Oki, and one week on the mainland, splitting their time between Kyoto and Tokyo. It was, altogether, a really great two weeks that we got to spend together. And while this week I’m going to talk about our time in Okinawa, I promise to write about Kyoto and Tokyo next week.

I spent a lot of time wondering what to show my parents when they finally arrived in Okinawa. In fact, as I previously wrote about on this blog, I even pre-screened some activities to see if they would be worthy of our time. But I still had a hard time deciding how to structure our days. Okinawa has many different faces, and I wasn’t really sure which one (or ones) they wanted to see. When I finally asked my mother some version of this question, she said she wanted to learn about the WWII history, and to see beautiful things. That didn’t seem a particularly helpful response at the time. But ultimately I found it helpful to see the island with two fresh pairs of eyes. It was incredibly validating on the one hand (knowing I’m not crazy for disliking certain things is always good) but also served as a good reminder that, even when things aren’t perfect, it’s important to find elements of each experience to appreciate – even if it’s only natural beauty.

I took the following photos at the lighthouse on Cape Zanpa. While I had not pre-screened this particular day trip, the dramatic vistas certainly enabled both my parents and me to get our daily fill of lush island scenery! 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Evening Colors

 USY Pilgrimage Group 10 1999: Italy/Israel Pilgrimage.  Thirteen years ago, I arrived in Israel and spent my first Shabbat in Jerusalem.  We had the afternoon to get ready.  People who never showered finally showered.  It was beautiful.

We stayed in the Beit Gesher Youth Hostel off of Agron Street not far away from Mamila and a short walk into the Old City.  But like most USY Groups, we stayed away from the Western Wall on Shabbat Eve and we headed to Yemin Moshe.  On a hillside overlooking the Armenian Quarter, with rosemary and myrtle wafting in the air, we welcomed Shabbat.  And while I can remember almost everything about that Shabbat eve, it’s the siren that still sticks with me. 

It’s the only part of the experience that repeated itself every Shabbat in Jerusalem without fail.  For those who have not had the ability to spend a Shabbat in the Holy City:  as the sun goes down on Friday evening, the air raid sirens go off to announce that the transition has officially begun.

Every trip I made to Jerusalem, I looked forward to that haunting beautiful siren.  When I lived there for the year, I regularly freaked out as the siren went off because it meant that I was running late in my Shabbat preparation (The one day that it went off on a non-Shabbat, I had a full-out panic attack).  Aside from general panic, I looked forward to the siren; it was my sign that Shabbat was really around.

I got to thinking about this last week during the Friday Evening Service in the Jewish Chapel.  We rose for the Amidah, and even the kids were being quiet.  Before I concluded with Oseh Shalom, I heard a familiar song in the distance:

As the sun goes down on Navy and Marine Corps bases, the flags are lowered: evening colors.  Throughout the base, you can hear "Retreat".  If you are standing outside, you come to attention.  If in uniform, you salute (even if they can’t see the flags).  If you are in a car, you stop.  It’s pretty intense (see the video).

The bugle call and the siren mark that point of transition.  The day is over.  Time to reflect.

At Camp Ramah, in the evening, the kids sing “Rad HaYom” to the tune of "Taps" at the end of the day:  “Rad Hayom / Shemesh dom / Cochavim notzitzeem bamarom / Laila bah, m'noocha / Shalom, Shalom......”  (The day is done, the sun is gone, the stars are sparkling above, night has come, rest time, goodbye – peace). 

This past Shabbat, as the sound of evening colors penetrated the chapel at just the perfect time, three distinct aspects of my life came together.  I was simultaneously a military man, a pilgrim, and a ramahnik.

Three steps back, bow to the left, bow to the right, bow to the front, three steps forward.  Oseh Shalom Bimromav Hu Ya’aseh Shalom, Aleinu v’al kol yisrael, v’imru Amen.

Shabbat Shalom, Camp Ramah in the Berkshires.
Shabbat Shalom, Israel.
Shabbat Shalom, Okinawa.
Shabbat Shalom, Everybody!

Friday, August 3, 2012

the DTS

My head has been a little scrambled over the past week.  I’m not sure everything I say makes actual sense or flows in a logical pattern.  As a chaplain, I know that this is one of my signs of stress.  I’m stressed.

I’ve identified my problem.  For those of you who are assuming that said stress is caused by my in-laws coming to town, you are incorrect.  They came with Israeli pickles and babka, not stress.

My stress mostly revolves around a trip that I have been planning off-island.  As my parents and sister will attest, I’ve been working on this for weeks now.  To be honest, I don’t really want to go - but the Marine Corps thinks it important that I attend.  It’s a conference on conducting PREP: a relationship and marriage enhancement workshop (and yes, I am supposed to go to while my in-laws are visiting).  Its part of a program that the USMC put into place to help young couples not get divorced so often.  It’s a good program, but bad timing.

As an officer in the Navy, it is my responsibility as attendee to go online and input all the data for the trip in the Defense Travel System (DTS).  I’m a big boy, and I am responsible for managing my needs.  I freakin’ hate DTS.

[Side note: Marines and their chaplains say the word “freakin” a lot.  The average Marine vocabulary often utilizes words that sound a lot like “freakin” (with similar lexical range), but they do use the PG version, too.]

To be fair, everyone freakin’ hates DTS.  All trips are scheduled in this system: from conferences in Hawaii to meetings at the Pentagon to deployments to Afghanistan.  It’s all the same system.  

Part of the problem is that there is always something wrong.  For example: big red flags came up on my trip request form because I would be crossing the International Dateline.  This requires imputing explanations into the system:  “Correct!  It’s because I live on the freakin’ other side of the freakin’ world!” (I find it is always best to talk to DOD systems in words that they can comprehend).

The other part of the problem (as I see it) is that once you input your information, the disaster of DTS has only just begun.  The process is out of your hands as 15 people review, adjust, approve, reject, or return your authorization.  They might just let it sit in their inboxes for several days, and then return it because a previous person on the chain routed it wrong.  Start again.

Every step of the way for the past weeks has been a nightmare with the system.  Every possible thing that could go wrong, went wrong. As of last night, I was still waiting for a plane ticket to fly out early next week.  Finally, today, after trying for so long, I got a plane ticket.

I’m ready to fly.  I notified my parents.  Called up a couple people who live in the vicinity.   We’re going to make this happen. But who knows if I will go?  A typhoon is supposed to hit Okinawa on Sunday.