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A New Season

Hello blinking cursor, it’s been quite a while since my last blog and many events have given me cause to pause and reflect. Ruminate, if you will.

I redeployed from Afghanistan to attend the Medal of Honor Ceremony for Ro. Two days ago I returned home from the second one for Ty. I was blessed to have the opportunity to get to know a couple of Gold Star Families much better, because in all honesty I was scared. I didn’t know what to say or how to act, and I felt ashamed that I had not gotten to know them better prior to all of these events. But I feel close to them now and look forward to our Destroyer family healing together.

I moved into a new unit, for the fourth time in two years at Fort Stewart. Made new friends and began establishing relationships with a new Commander and XO, both of whom are the strongest breath of fresh air and inspiration that I have enjoyed since leaving Fort Carson in May of 2011. For the first time in two years I feel like I can stretch my legs and dream. I feel like I can lead and mentor others. And above all else, I feel trusted and valued. Never doubt the power of making your subordinates feel trusted and valued.

I started going to therapy. Yeah, Corie and I sometimes talk a good game about taking care of yourself, but for a long time we just didn’t apply that rule to us. Whether it was command climate or some much tension built up over the years, I just needed to vent to someone other than my wife. Her having gone back to work, she didn’t need another client in the house. She needed a whole husband, who wasn’t beat down and depressed, over-stressed and angry. And it has been working wonderfully.

I started taking Paxil. They recommended it for me at Fort Carson, when I struggled desperately with free-floating anxiety. I never had nightmares, but damned if I didn’t work all night long in my dreams haunted by deadlines and missed appointments. Six cracked teeth (crowns from the dentist are on my to-do list) and hundreds of “gray days” later, I relented. It makes a difference. I feel like I could recognize Spring if it showed up. I “feel” love. If you haven’t ever endured a mild depression for a long time without much enjoyment of anything, that phrase may not mean you. If you have ever laughed at something and realized it has been months since you had a overwhelming belly laugh or sense of levity, then you understand.

I started hormone replacement therapy. For a while I was a bit ashamed, honestly. I am too young to have low testosterone and adrenal glands that just don’t function anymore. But I need relief from the blah, I visited Corie’s doctor, and I feel human again. I still take my daily dose of Adrenal, but a year of blood test results and I can’t get my Cortisol above 4 in the morning or afternoon. Guess all of those casualties took their toll on me, huh? And then three weeks ago I read that 43% of soldiers with mTBI have Hypopituitarianism, i.e. their endocrine system is malfunctioning and leading to Growth Hormone Deficiency, exhibiting the same symptoms of PTSD (lethargy, depression, etc.). And I shared that news with some friends at work and they said they have hope for the first time in years. Hey Lord, just once maybe don’t make me the guinea pig and billboard.

I put my career in God’s hands. Of all things to do...this was the hardest. For many reasons I realized that I can be a great Chaplain on my own strength. Charismatic and smart, I can pull of staff-officer-ship with impeccable results. It’s a gift, and I have leveraged it. But therein lies the fatal flaw, I was overconfident in my strengths and began giving off a “self-promoting” vibe that didn’t reflect what really goes on in my heart. In my heart I grieve for the pain of my soldiers, families and leaders. I watch the eyes of my friends dart about when recalling their pain only to fixate on a image that is a thousand yards away and several years ago, and it breaks me, inside. And I haven’t led with that. My initial counseling with this latest XO set her expectation that in the midst of chaos and confusion, she needs me to be “calm and unity.” And I reflected on my last experience of being that, in the FOB Bostick Forward Surgical Tent. And I re-centered myself to become a peacemaker and team-builder. I learned one important thing: “Don’t believe your own press, but live up to it.” I am reminded of the Officers who mentor me, even in their absence, LTC Douglas Keeler, COL Brad Brown, LTC Matt Kinkead, and COL John Hixson. Professional and personable. Thank you gentlemen.

I continued championing my wife. She is amazing, a heart of gold and a head of steel. Watching her push down walls of bureaucracy and obstinate DoD stove-piping has shown me more about her heart and passion than a long conversation could have. We have fought through some dark places in the last six months, which we believe is something/someone attempting to disrupt the amazing plans we feel responsible for bringing to reality for our Veterans and Families. I cannot look back on the 14 years together and not see evidence of Providence and the Enmity which would seek to destroy Goodness from occurring.

I have fallen in love with my boys all over again. Both in their own special and wonderful way, they have won my heart over, and over again. Even now, just attempting to type it, I am speechless.

Lastly, I have renewed my vow to fight. I felt alone and lonely, and God encouraged me through the affirmations of the soldiers and families that I poured myself out to years ago. I was hopeless about the future, but God inspired me with ideas of amazing things yet to come and an open invitation to be involved in them, and for once in the last few years I realized that God “will provide for all of my needs [because he is in control].” I felt that Corie and I had grown more accustomed to working shoulder-to-shoulder, without enjoying face-to-face, and I didn’t know if this was the eventuality of marriage. And over the course of some challenging and difficult discussions, we promised to make changes and I see that “God can make all things new.” And so I have begun to fight in so many areas and for so many loved ones...family, friends and soldiers. And in truth it is hard to tell the difference between those groups.

This time, last year, Corie and I were attempting to find the strength and courage to tough out what we were calling “fourth quarter,” with jobs, stress and a pending deployment. Truthfully, I believe that game has finally ended. I don’t know who won, but I do know that we are in a new season, the old record has been posted and cannot be changed.

Tomorrow the Clemson Tigers take the field against the Georgia Bulldogs, and as they touch the Rock and run down the hill for the best 20 seconds in College Football, I will be reminded that before any game, before running onto the field of battle, I too must touch the Solid Rock, on which I stand...all other ground is sinking sand.