Die Motherfucker Die


“Death is the solution to all problems. No printer – no problem.” ~Joseph Stalin, quote only slightly modified

Hate is a strong word.  I realized that about the time of my divorce well over a decade ago.  It is not to be used lightly, or loosely.  And seriously, I don’t hate much, or often.

But, I can say, with great confidence, that I hate my printer.  My ex-printer, that is….

We bought this printer quite by accident.  Such is how these types of ill-fated relationship-to-be often begin.  It was, at first, innocent enough:  our regular household goods, crated months earlier in Pensacola for our overseas journey to Okinawa, Japan, were never shipped, but instead, left sitting idly by, collecting dust in some musty warehouse in the rural southeast United States.  Read about that here Castaway.

We were able to file an “inconvenience claim” against our movers for their negligence in, well, actually moving our goods.  Or forgetting to move our household.  So off to the Kadena Air Force Base Exchange we went to find a replacement printer since we both needed one to carry out the personal plan and business transactions of our days.

Of course, there was absolutely nothing wrong with our beloved printer from The States.  But having the opportunity to buy a new device on someone else’s dime (and rightfully so), we decided to “upgrade” to what seemed to be a popular HP set, one of those large all-in-one photocopiers, printers, scanners and fax machines.  And so the Demon found its way home with us.

Demon Printer started executing its seditious agenda almost immediately.  When our Household Goods finally arrived in Okinawa (a full two months late), and when our *beloved* trusty printer of the past was unpacked, we realized it was damaged, and damaged beyond repair or operation.  Coincidence?  I think not.

The “problems” with our new printer started almost immediately after putting our original unit to permanent rest.  …as if the Demon Printer knew it and it alone now ruled the tangible output of our electronic lives.

And as if we already sensed the darker nature of this particular device, it was relocated to a far corner of a far room, connected wirelessly to our home network.  Perhaps it was this locale that really triggered Demon Printer’s incessant interruptions in our lives, or perhaps it was just ill-tempered no matter.  Its fate was sealed quite early our tenuous relationship.

Constant connectivity problems.  Paper jams.  Running out of paper at the most inopportune times.  Drinking ink like a an alcoholic crashing an open bar wedding reception….  And so much more.  I quickly came to hate this particular machine, clearly a “no-talent ass-clown”.

But the Exchange kept carrying the model.  There will hundreds of ink cartridges available.  They sold the entire 3.5 years we lived there.  Was it just me?  Was it just this particular serial-numbered printer which had been demonized?

Every single time I hit “print” from my desktop computer in our comfortable living area, I would hear the Demon awake with gurgles and growls, and then almost every single time an error message would appear.  Pick one, any one, or all of them:  “out of ink,” “paper jam,” “not ready,” “not online,” “out of paper”….  Sometimes the Demon would simply refuse to stir, no doubt deep in some black magic trance.

I attempted rational solutions.  I tried to flush its memory by pulling power for minutes, even hours.  I checked that all the trays were seated securely, the wheels and gears all aligned properly, and stacks of paper and ink cartridges were locked in place and photo cards aligned and inserted.  All to no avail.

The printer, when powered up or upon receiving a document to print would start an orchestrated gyration of popping sounds, grinding gears, and mechanical motion.  All, one would think, to ready itself to print.  But more often than that, it was simply a prelude to an error message….

Clearly this was no normal all-in-one copier.  No, it was no doubt a paranormal printer.  An Exorcism was clearly in order.  Problem was, I’m no Saint (not even close), and while anyone should be able to compel the power of Christ to oust the Devil, this too failed.

I had planned, for the longest time, to kill this printer prior to leaving Okinawa.  But with overseas, international moves being what they are, making time for this execution was problematic.  Don’t get me wrong:  I had the plan, the people, the camera, and even the bat.  But it came down to my last 24 hours….

We kept that demon printer out in case we needed to print.  But we were NOT taking it home with us.  And, as it turns out, we did need to print some documents (those having to do with sending our wine home, will be the subject of its own blog I assure you).  So I go to connect to the printer wirelessly with my Surface.  I Can’t…of course.  Jody comes in and connects right away with her Surface and prints the document.  However, she realizes a mistake, fixes it and attempts to reprint.  Wait-WHAT??  MOTHER FUCKER IS NOW, SUDDENLY OUT OF INK!?  Jody and I standing there, laughing or else we would cry.  And this – its failure on its very last print job is what ultimately sealed the Demon Printer’s fate.  The clock was now ticking to DEATH.

By the by, I told Jody to change the font in the document to blue, and it did print.  POORLY.  But good enough to get our booze home….

Minutes before our departure for the airport, after our seven pieces of luggage, four carry-ons, and two cat crates had been loaded in our two-vehicle convey, and with no reprieve coming, some friends and I carried out the sentence.

Die Motherfucker Die.

Water Safety Stand-Down, or Punitive Stand Around??


“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.  We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly.  We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”  ~Aristotle

Okinawa, as well as the wider Pacific basin (Korea, Japan and Hawaii, in terms of the Marine Corps at least), is going through a temporary ban/prohibition on recreational water activities.  Due in part to the drowning deaths of two Marines this past weekend, but certainly exacerbated by other deaths and numerous serious permanent injuries from earlier in the year.  The Commanding General here in Okinawa says it isn’t punitive – but it is.  And the stand-down is supposed to be about “resetting” the force to help improve water safety so that we all can better and more safely enjoy the water sports for which Okinawa is famous…which it doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong:  these deaths are tragic, and tragically preventable.  I am not belittling any person’s life, nor calling into question that something needs to be done to help keep similar mishaps like these from happening in the future.  But hey Navy-Marine Corps Team:  you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s what happens when the military powers-that-be on Okinawa ban or prohibit some activity because there is an issue.  First, the literally tens of thousands of people that enjoy the waters around Okinawa on a weekly, and for some, almost daily basis, are marginalized, ignored, and otherwise lumped en mass with the few who are cause for concern.  There is NO DOUBT that preventable deaths are a sad, unnecessary and tragic occurrence.  But for the common Marine, Airman, Soldier or Airman, to take away their access to the water though no fault of their own is, well, punitive.  All it takes is a scan of the Facebook comments to see evidence of this conclusion firsthand.  In fact, the people that actually are doing everything RIGHT – the vast number of people affected by this order I argue -are lumped into the masses, and made to suffer some attempt at remediation.  We will get to how badly that remediation is being implemented in this case down below.

Second, subordinate commands can jerk the chain even further.  For instance, for MCCS Scuba Programs, even pool events/training were placed off-limits during this stand-down, with the explicit threat of immediate termination if a student was allowed to enter the water, any water, for any reason.  Are pools really the issue?  Are people getting hurt in the pools?  Are we worried about the safety of pools or the events that take place there?  Some people on this island have to make special arrangements to take a scuba diving class.  Some take leave.  Others have to clear duty schedules.  Still others have to coordinate work releases and/or baby-sitting.  Canceling the ability to train, specifically in a setting where a real difference can/could be made considering the subject and intent of the stand-down, is, well, punitive to some and counterproductive to most.

Further, MCCS Scuba was required to do an immediate 100% accountability recall of rental gear, a requirement expressed to staff and contractors with some sense of urgency.  The fact was made very clear that the shops were required to account for every single regulator and buoyancy control device.  Was this the Commander’s intent?  Whose “good idea” was this?  I’ve read the Commander’s intent, and nowhere is this type of reaction warranted, or required by any sort of evidence-based practice.  Are we really that worried about people sneaking off to go scuba diving?  If so, what about all those people with their own tanks and gear….

Then there’s the stand-down “training.”  It is, of course, a PowerPoint.  And of course it was created in mere hours, based on existing (and lame) water safety products already readily available.  If you haven’t reviewed this training brief, please do so now.  Actually, although I have the brief, it is classified “For Official Use Only,” and while not a “real” classification, it would be in very bad form to place it in this public domain.  So, my apologies, but you won’t be able to see what all of Okinawa will be forced to view.  This particular briefing is one which is being promulgated on the “Green Side” (US Marine Corps), and it simply and completely misses the mark.  In retrospect, I’m actually happy you the reader won’t view the training – saves me the embarrassment.

So, let’s cut to the chase…and get right to the point.

Preventing these fatalities and other water-related mishaps are NOT a matter of sitting through yet another poorly conceived and even more poorly constructed PowerPoint briefing, delivered poorly by someone lacking the requisite knowledge and expertise to speak intelligently about the very real and very serious issues at hand.  IT IS A MATTER OF CHANGING THE CULTURE OF WATER RECREATION SAFETY ON OKINAWA.

I’m not saying that a safety stand-down is unwarranted or inappropriate.  Quite the opposite; we used them effectively in Naval Aviation when I was a flier.  What I am saying is that in the modern age of intrusive military leadership, documented training in a CYA-mode along with additional layers of micromanagement and oversight, such unfocused and irrelevant “training” is counterproductive.  Judgment is an exceedingly hard thing to just “train” into people.  Paradigm and cultural shifts take a level of effort orders of magnitude beyond more GMT (general military training).

The training provided, from an examination of its content, focuses primarily on THREE things:  Okinawa “Sea Conditions,” dangerous marine life, and rip currents.  That’s right – little about experience, almost nothing about wearing of personal flotation, no push for training and certification (not just for divers, but snorkelers as well), and finally, almost nothing on how to mitigate and handle growing anxiety and near-panic in the water….

Having been a diver on Okinawa now for over seven years, and being a PADI Professional for about six of those years (and a diver for 25), I can tell you that I have only heard of (but cannot confirm) one American fatality from dangerous marine life, and that was due to anaphylactic shock from a sea wasp sting, and not from drowning (I believed this occurred on/about 1999).  This brief would have you believe that Moray eels and even Barracuda are out for blood.  Fully seven of the brief’s 30 slides – ¼ of the brief when you take out the intro and ending slides – are dedicated to marine life, which to my knowledge, have absolutely nothing to do with serious water-related injuries or fatalities this year…or in the last three.  Talk about detractors???  Again, what is causing the water-related deaths and injuries on Okinawa?  What are the chains in these mishaps that we can keep from being broken??  MOST CERTAINLY NOT DANGEROUS MARINE LIFE.  Oh, and marine life is only potentially  dangerous, mind you….

Second, there seems to be a concentration of content on rip currents (8 of 30 slides).  I’m not sure the genesis of this focus.  If there was/were rip currents involved in recent fatalities, THEN SAY SO.  I, for one, find this hard to believe, although it cannot be ruled out.  Again, being an experienced diver on Okinawa, with something like 1,000 dives throughout the island, I have found VERY FEW true rip currents here.  And even those, like ones at the “old” Onna Point, Sunny’s Sunabe, Water Treatment, and Hedo Point are dependent on tide phase and change, along with various aspects of sea state (wave height, direction and period).  Training people on what to do if caught in a rip current is not a bad thing, and in Southern California or parts of Florida, a necessary thing.  However, are the photos of the purported rips in the brief even from Okinawa???  Remember, undertow and surge are NORMAL aspects of increased surf, and should not be confused with rip currents….

Finally, the long, verbatim discussion on Sea Conditions (4 of 30 slides, extremely wordy) begs people to yawn and check Facebook on their cell phones.  Let’s be honest:  there is a rampant lack of respect for Okinawa’s Sea Condition, the people who set it, and the criteria that it’s based on.  I cannot even begin to numerate how many times the meteorologists have jumped the shark when it comes to actual water conditions versus published condition.  It is a common joke across the island.  Sometimes they under-report how bad things really are; other and maybe more often, they over-restrict access to the water when completely unwarranted.  I feel so strongly about how ineffectual Sea Condition is that it has its own dedicated blog; see Surf Nazis Must Die!  Keep in mind that most mishaps happen when in “all clear” or “caution,” sea conditions that do not preclude any in-water activity.

Where is this discussion in this training on the absolute necessity of personal flotation, not just when scuba diving, but when snorkeling, especially in water too deep to stand, REGARDLESS OF SEA CONDITION?  Where is the emphasis on gaining proper experience?  But that in and of itself still isn’t enough:  where is the much needed discussion on MAINTAINING PROFICIENCY??  Having insider information on recent events on Okinawa, I can tell you with a high degree of certainty that lack of PFDs combined with inexperience and lack of proficiency were direct contributors to very unfavorable outcomes….

Where is the discussion in this training on whether the mishap persons in question inflated their flotation or not (if they were even wearing any)?  Was gear in place – mask and snorkel?  Where regulators used during questionable surf entries/exits?  Did the mishap scuba diver inflate their BCDs?  Did the mishap scuba diver drop weights?  Did those attempting a rescue ensure positive buoyancy for the victim and themselves?  Did rescuers drop the mishap scuba-diver’s weights?  Was emergency oxygen available and utilized?  These are all critical elements which could (but not necessarily so), improve the chances for a more favorable outcome.

Where is the discussion in this training that it’s not enough to have the appropriate gear, but to wear and use that gear?  When encountering any questionable surf on entry or exit, mask must be on and reserve air in the scuba cylinder should be utilized by using the kit’s regulator.  Further, how many divers really understand that in moderate-to-heavy surf on scuba that at times it is much better to DEFLATE completely to keep surge from throwing divers about?

Where is the discussion in this training on how important it is to calm yourself the moment you begin to feel anxiety in the water?  About being familiar and experienced enough with your gear (assuming you are wearing it) to utilize it when it is absolutely necessary?  Panic is a killer in the water, even at the surface, and as far as I can tell, these last three fatalities all happened at the surface, and were almost certainly preceded by full-blown panic.

Then there are the training’s misguided “Takeaways.”  From the brief one would assume that rip currents and dangerous marine life would be highlighted.  But they aren’t.  Instead, one takeaway incorrectly says to “go with your instincts”!  Instinctively people will go into water which they are not prepared for!!!  Only training and experience can overcome “instinct.”  Another points out that alcohol and water activities don’t mix:  IS THERE SOMETHING WE SHOULD KNOW HERE??  Or, is this just yet another plug to “not drink and [fill in the blank]….”  Yet another take-away is adherence to the buddy rule, always a great idea, but did a loose interpretation of the buddy team concept result in or contribute to one of these mishaps???  These are the things that we all need to know.  In the brief’s defense, it does on the final slide talk about training and equipment, but only in summary.

What are my takeaways, and what would I tell people if I had an audience, or were even invited to have input in water-safety training?  I would say this:

  • There is absolutely no substitute for comprehensive, quality training, for boating, personal watercraft, snorkel, scuba, and swim.
  • Training & Experience win over instinct every time.
  • There is absolutely no reason to disregard required equipment.
  • There is absolutely a need to build personal first-hand experience, both in numbers (repeated exposure) and over time (exposure to a wide variety of environments/conditions).
  • There is absolutely a need to maintain proficiency; swim, snorkel and scuba skills are perishable, especially for novices experiencing a long lay-off.
  • Emergency Procedures must be practiced in order for them to be effective, especially with new and/or unfamiliar dive buddies.
  • The “10 Second Rule” is not enough: waves come in trains, and ten second is not long enough to properly assess a situation.  A decision NOT TO DIVE can be concluded within 10 seconds.  However, if after 10 seconds the conditions seem okay, continue to monitor the site for a FULL MINUTE.  Only then can wave trains be properly accounted for, along with wave period and extent of surge.
  • Utilize all gear when in moderate-to-high surf, which includes keeping masks on, and having a mouthpiece in mouths (preferably a regulator/air source).
  • The moment increased anxiety is felt, STOP & BREATH; focus and get control of your breathing before thinking about necessary actions. Loss of breath control contributes quickly to panic and water aspiration, a combination that is deadly.
  • There is absolutely a need to change the culture of assumed personal invincibility over the oceans to one of exercised personal responsibility for your own safety – your safety is your responsibility, yours and yours alone.

Finally, in order to change the culture of water safety in Okinawa, it’s going to take engagement with all those that have the most impact and the most visibility:  swim coaches and instructors, snorkel and scuba instructors and store staffs, and even boat/watercraft renters and operators.  From my standpoint, and here I believe I may speak for many, there is almost zero engagement with the wider community of professionals, who all stand willing, able and ready to help make a change.  Outside of a few select individuals from a couple of the military dive shops, the community of professional divers is largely unleveraged in this regard.

What can be systemically done?  Push for additional training.  One way would be subsidies to bring the cost of relevant training down, training which could/may include snorkel/skin diver certifications through the dive shops, Advanced Open Water dive training, and even Rescue dive training.  Another business model could use additional revenue generated from a price increase for entry-level dive programs that would be used to offset these other courses.  Currently, only 7% of my annual certifications are for Rescue.

For me, personally, the best I can do at this point is through each and every class that I instruct, and each and every dive that I lead or attend.  I have, in the last year, added buoyancy and mask skills to every single class, and in the last months, have added an increased emphasis on sea state/ dive site evaluation and entry & exit safety.  Because, based on my own root cause analysis of mishaps (albeit based on very little and all unofficial information since little is shared with the wider community), these elements are exactly that critical.

Until there is a more reasonable, grounded and holistic approach to improving water safety, by engaging all stakeholders and customers alike, we will seldom make progress given the status quo of punitive restrictions and yet another ineffectual PowerPoint briefing.  “Are we done yet,” I hear you say as you yawn and put down your cell.  Yes, yes we are.  Now hopefully you can be done standing around and finally go back in the water.

Commander, United States Navy, Arriving!


“There’s always a reason to celebrate…but knowing why is helpful.” ~Wishful Prayer on our Ema left at the Itsukushima Shrine

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Ema always a reason to celebrate

Jody and had for months planned an overly expensive blow-out vacation in celebration of our near-future together: either retirement from the Navy on 1 January 2016, or another 3.5 years and an additional tour in the Navy, ending with Jody as a Commander at 30 years of total service.

O-Torii Gate, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

O-Torii Gate, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

15839684381_aec7060d66_bYou see, that fork depended upon this year’s Commander (O-5) Selection results. But that split in potential paths forward should’ve been reached for us a full two years ago. In 2012, the Navy decided to split the “zone,” a grouping based on seniority which determined eligible candidates for promotion – get this – exactly at Jody. So, rather than being considered for promotion in the spring of 2013 as expected, we had to wait another year until Jody became even eligible. Frustrating, to say the least….

Married Vets

Married Vets

Jody Serving in Japan

Jody Serving in Japan

Then in 2014, Jody and I were shocked when she was not selection for Commander after waiting an extra year to finally become eligible. And that made this year her last shot. The Federal government has a statutory requirement it places on the military that states if you are eligible for retirement and miss a promotion to the next rank twice, you must retire. It’s called “two-time failure on selection,” and it’s exactly what forced me out of the service as a Lieutenant Commander in 2008.

Dining and Sleep Area in our Ryokan

Dining and Sleep Area in our Ryokan

Private Balcony Onsen Bath

Private Balcony Onsen Bath

In-room Dining

In-room Dining

So, we planned this celebratory vacation starting on June 29th, expecting the Commander results to be released the last week in June like they usually are. We booked a high-end Japanese Ryokan, a place known for their 12-course gourmet meals served in your room prepared by award-winning chefs, in a room that had outdoor bathing fed by a onsite onsen (hot spring), on the resort island of Miyajima just outside of Hiroshima. We were going to end this trip with a 3-night stay in the infamous city right next to the Peace Memorial Park and Museum at the ANA Crowne Plaza.

At the A-Dome, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

At the A-Dome, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

We fully expected to know the results of Jody’s board prior to leaving. But in any case, at the worst, we would certainly know prior to the July 4th holiday weekend while we were on vacation. So even if we left without knowing, certainly we would know before our return.

Placing our ema at the Itsukushima Shrine

Placing our ema at the Itsukushima Shrine

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Ema always a reason to celebrate Jody writing WMMiyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Ema always a reason to celebrate writing WMOf course the Navy had different ideas. For whatever reason, the selection results were delayed this year (it appears at the SECDEF level). We have a tradition of leaving our prayers and wishes at most of the Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples we visit in Japan. So, at the beginning of our celebration-vacation, we placed an ema (See Shinto Shrines and Snake Oil for more) at the famous Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island, wishing, “There is always a reason to celebrate…but knowing why is helpful.  To discovering why we celebrate in Miyajima.  The Kings ~ Jody and Kevin.”

At the famous Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

At the famous Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

Frustrated that we celebrated without knowing why, we came home and simply stopped worry about the results, at least on the surface. I stopped asking Jody about results, and she stopped checking every morning. It would happen when it happened, and there was nothing we could do about it. Of course it had always been outside our spheres of influence from the start….

Richshaw Ride, Miyajima

Richshaw Ride, Miyajima

And like most other things in life, when you let go of stress and worry, things have a way of working themselves out. Early this morning, when Jody got up to pee as the category 4 Typhoon Chan-hom was making her closest approach to Okinawa, Jody had a text message from a nurse co-worker. Dana’s boyfriend, a Navy Officer back on the East coast of the United States, had sent the just-released selection results forward. And Jody was on the list!

Not just the prettiest nurse in the Navy, now the prettiest COMMANDER in the Navy!

Not just the prettiest nurse in the Navy, now the prettiest COMMANDER in the Navy!

Jody is now a full Commander (select)!! Seems Mother Nature was already in the know and giving Jody a wetting-down worthy of one she so strongly deserved.  And yes, this means Jody outranks me now. Don’t worry, I salute her all the time (wink-wink).

At the O-Torii in the rain, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

At the O-Torii in the rain, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

Most likely she will pin the new rank on in December. And this means that we will finish up our tour here on Okinawa, slated to leave in August of 2016. Jody will start immediately negotiating our next set of orders, and plans to do three more years of active duty service once she’s a Commander to take full advantage of retiring as an O-5 (“high-three” retirement plan, where retirement pay is calculated as the average of the highest three years of salary on active duty). Ideas we are considering are a return to Pensacola, or quite possibly, a Consecutive Overseas Tour (COT) in Europe…if there is something available where we would want to go.

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7926452868_629435d039_b13117509193_a3e1975570_bCongratulations Jody on making Commander. It is a long-time coming, and well-deserved. You have truly succeeded in your nursing profession and have excelled in the United States Navy, having progressed from the junior enlisted ranks to full Commander during your long military service. I couldn’t be more proud, and I look forward to throwing you a more proper wetting-down celebration later this year. I eagerly await continuing our adventures together.

Learning some maritime military history at the Kure Maritime Museum

Learning some maritime military history at the Kure Maritime Museum

Fair Winds and Following Seas, My Love.

Miyajima 2015, beautiful Jody on the ferry across

Or, should I say, “Ma’am”?!?

Sober and Sobering


“When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.” ~Henny Youngman

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The line of cars at the gate to Kadena Air Force Base was unusually backed up, given that it was a lazy well-after-the-church-crowd Sunday mid-afternoon. As we joined our place in the queue, I noticed up ahead the gate guards waving their magic wands at each vehicle as it stopped in place for the necessary checks before entering the preeminent American gated community on this island of the Far East.

We approached. “Good afternoon sir, we are conducting a random sobriety test,” the guard politely proclaimed. While I’m sure he didn’t enjoy doing “The Man’s” work anymore than I most certainly would, he remained cordial, pleasant and respectful. Being one never to pass up an opportunity for sarcastic yet mild sedition, and being rather disgusted by such treatment of our people by our people overseas, I replied, “It’s not random if you check every car….” “Ahhhh…uhmmmm, it’s just at random times,” came his meager reply….

Silver Flag 09-09

I’m sick and tired of having my sobriety questioned simply because I am (loosely) associated with the US military presence on Okinawa, Japan. Now, you may claim that a random check at the gate on Sunday afternoon is not all that bad.

But it is. Because it’s not all that random. Fast forward a day, less than 24 hours later. I am driving between the Kadena Exchange and the Fairchild pool (where I teach scuba), both within the confines of Kadena Air Force Base, and elect to take a back road, one that runs by the NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) club, “The Rocker.” Approaching the Rocker, I spy two uniformed military police officers standing in the road at a four-way intersection. Evident in their hands are the wands which they brandish….

Yep, checked again to see if I had been drinking, at 1230 on a Monday afternoon. But it isn’t even the two checks in 22 hours that is most insulting; it’s that the cops are purposely staking out one of the on-base clubs so they can catch some poor sap who had a beer with his lunch….

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Or, even worse, the military has instituted random sobriety checks…in the workplace. Now, regardless of position or rank or the 26 years of faithful, honorable, and trouble-free service you proven yourself with, you blow into the machine just like everyone else. In the past, only the Commanding Officers of units could authorize a “fit for duty” screen for alcohol…and that had to be based on some type of the military’s less stringent version of our Constitutionally guaranteed probable cause. Worse, the practice is not evidence based: the military is just not rife with drunks on the job, even though it has its share of highly functioning alcoholics.

I’ve written about the massive failure in our senior leadership in the modern military before (See Sorry…for the Epic Fail). The failure isn’t found in the fact that some servicemembers continue to drink and drive; as a slice of the wider American pie, the military will always have its share of “bad apples.” Rather, it’s in the “suspect and punish the masses” approach to enforcing the unnecessarily strict liberty policies our leaders have already enacted.

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Civilian Deaths in Iraq by Year and Month as a result of the US-Led Coalition invasion in 2003.

But there’s a much more sobering aspect to this misplaced and unwarranted focus on drinking. If the military only put the same emphasis in avoiding collateral damage on the many battlefields that our leadership, civilian and military, have decided to fight upon, the world would be a much better place.  And many more innocent lives would be uninterrupted by death, unmolested by injury and inoculated a good measure of suffering.

It’s hard to put forward a reliable figure for just how many people have been killed and wounded as a result of the US-led coalition warring in Iraq since 2003. It’s pretty clear just doing a few minutes of reading online that clearly no one knows with any measure of certainty. But there are some “facts” that are, well, at least widely recognized and accepted. One is this: there have been more than 133,000 individually recorded civilian deaths since the 2003 invasion of Iraq due to direct war-related violence, a truly sobering realization. These are documented fatalities based on hospital and morgue records, and includes official government accounts.

Where are the protests about unnecessary civilian deaths?

Where are the protests about unnecessary civilian deaths?

However, other sources say such figures are massively underestimated, as they do not consider fatalities from indirect causes of war. In this characterization, upwards of a half a million possibly have died from war-related (direct and indirect) causes in Iraq since 2003. Indirect causes include other avoidable deaths linked to our invasion, such as those caused by insurgencies and subsequent social breakdown. All told, almost 1 in 10 Iraqis have been directly affected by being either killed, wounded, or displaced.

I’m not saying that drinking and driving isn’t an issue. It’s just that, for the military, there are more pressing concerns that dwarf the drunk driving “crisis” that has been rather artificially crafted and politically inflated. Although the number of traffic accidents involving intoxicated drivers in Japan has fallen greatly in the past decade, it is, to the Japanese, still unacceptably high. In 2011, there were 5,029 alcohol-related accidents, down from 25,400 in 2001, a massive reduction by any standard. According to a 2009 study by the Japanese National Police Agency, 57% of arrested drunk drivers were second offenders. Sound familiar?

Chart-showing-the-rate-of-fatal-accidents-involving-drunk-drivers

Accidents (Red) and Fatal Accidents (Blue), both Drink-Related

But let’s try and get a realistic handle on just how serious the problem may be. Data from the Fukuoka Prefectural Police records of traffic accidents between 1987 and 1996 show that 58,421 male drivers were involved in traffic accidents during the 10-year study period, and that 271 of these were killed as a result. That’s equivalent to just about how many drink-related fatalities occur on the roads of Alabama every year (same rates, roughly same population at/near 5 million). Among male motorcar drivers, the odds of being killed in an accident increased by 4 over drivers who remained sober prior to driving.

Of all the Japanese Prefectures, Okinawa has had the highest rate of accidents causing injury or death involving drunk drivers in Japan for 24 consecutive years. And contrary to what you might think given the way the military mistreats their own in all matters drink, it’s not the American’s fault. Far from it.

The Okinawa Prefectural Police data show Okinawa has the highest number of drunk drivers arrested for every 1,000 people in Japan, roughly about 125 people every month. Very few of these are US military or here because of the US military. The prefecture also often has the highest car-accident death rate involving drunk drivers. And although Okinawa is aggressively attempting to prevent drunk driving and has a low 0.03 BAC, rates of drunken driving have not changed. On Okinawa in 2013 there were 6,664 accidents causing injury or death, while only about two percent (134 cases) involved drunk driving, a rate about 2.8 times the Japanese national average. At the same time, over 1,350 drunk drivers were arrested, a rate of 1 in every 10,000 people in Okinawa, about 4.3 times the national average.

Probable-Cause

Yes, drunk driving is a problem, a serious problem, and of course actions should be taken to curb as much of it as possible. Believe me, it impacted my life personally when my brother many years ago came very close to being murdered by a drunk driver while stopped at a red light. But on Okinawa, it is NOT an American “problem,” although the local politics and high-profile media reporting attempt to make it so. Politics is politics even here in the Far East, and all politics are local, and in this corner of the Far East even minor incidents stoke anti-US military tensions that already are running high as local citizens and Okinawan politicians clamor for a reduced presence of the US military on Okinawa.

Thus we have our ridiculous and unpoliceable liberty restrictions. The midnight-to-5 a.m. prohibition, which covers all branches of the military on Okinawa (but oddly and clearly discriminatorily not the rest of Japan), applies to any establishment where the “primary business is the sale and consumption of alcohol.” And for those wishing to drink off-base, you can only do so with a meal, and then are allowed only two drinks…and only in a public place.

Even the Colonels, Combat Leaders of Men, require liberty cards on Okinawa.

Even the Colonels, Combat Leaders of Men, require liberty cards on Okinawa.

The rules are a bird’s nest tangle of rules and regulations. For instance, you cannot go to someone else’s home off-base and drink. Living off-base, you are supposed to still self-ground yourself and abide by the wider military curfew. Battle Buddies are required for junior personnel to even leave base (in the hours they can), and overnight liberty requires special permission…and then the curfew still applies wherever one might overnight. Oh, and even pedestrians coming and going from base are checked: the liberty policy says you can’t be out in town with over a 0.03 BAC period. So you even get in trouble for walking through the gate – either way – if you had a beer or two in the last hour!

Reasonable, right?

WRONG. It’s just freakin’ silliness and contradictory, and everyone knows it. The Exchange sells massive amounts of alcohol (along with smokes and chew). The drinking restrictions and the curfew don’t apply on-base. In other words, you can drink until you puke your guts out, as long as you don’t leave base or drive on base. So, all the polices, rules, regulations and restrictions are not really about protecting “us” (even if it’s from ourselves) or ensuring the health and welfare of our service members. It’s really about avoiding embarrassment and bad press. Plus there’s simply too much money to be made selling such popular vices. Oddly enough, the military then has to fund and provide a plethora of treatment and cessation courses, classes and treatment for booze, smokes and chew, all the same things they push openly and publicly at the same time. The proverbial self-licking ice cream cone.

It’s time that our military leadership grow a backbone and defend the VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE WHO DO THE RIGHT THING. Literally tens of thousands of soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines here on Okinawa never do anything wrong. The majority have squeaky clean service records, and are trusted with multi-million dollar pieces of equipment, with lethal force, and with other peoples’ lives.

Uncle Sam also is a big believer in "probable cause"

Uncle Sam also is a big believer in “probable cause”

Recently a Gunny friend of mine, an E7 in the USMC, had to handle an “Alcohol Related Incident” (ARI), a serious one involving disorderly conduct off-base and an assault of a Japanese policeman (the Police later dropped charges). Rather than send this Marine back home and punish him with immediate restriction or non-judicial punishment, he was simply dropped off at his barracks and told to stay put.  The unit CO, instead of focusing on this problem-child, recalled all his Marines…on Sunday afternoon…made them put uniforms on…where they stood in formation while getting a “talking to.” What they should have gotten was a text message saying, “Hey, your Skipper here: THANK YOU for doing the right thing this weekend!”

Why on earth does the military insist of making everyone pay? Why does the military blame everyone else, including friends and local leadership when an individual does something really stupid? How on earth do the actions of less than 0.5% of the force equal a “systemic failure in leadership”? Would you punish all your children when only one didn’t do their homework? Does a whole family get arrested when one person buys or uses drugs? Where else do we punish the masses for the transgressions of the one? What is sorely missing in the modern military is 1) personal accountability for a lack of personal responsibility for the 0.5% do-wrongers, and 2) positive reinforcement for the 99.5% of the troops that constantly and continually do the right thing.

Japan has made amazing strides in drunk driving, and it's not by restricting the public's liberties....

Japan has made amazing strides in drunk driving, and it’s not by restricting the public’s liberties….

So, while we may mistakenly “trust” all those Lance Corporals out there not to kill the innocents while using lethal force overseas in the name of the United States, they all are no less than one or two drinks away from becoming a serial rapist or violent felon when back home on Okinawa. I’m afraid that the military is neglecting to put the same amount of effort and emphasis on promoting the morality of killing and rules of engagement to better avoid “collateral damage,” but I suspect we are not. If only the half a million of dead and injured civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in the same measure of bad press, political consequence, and threat to American military-industrial interests, perhaps things would be different.

 

The following sources were used to compile the facts on figures used in this blog:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/15/iraq-death-toll_n_4102855.html

https://www.iraqbodycount.org/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/iraq-civilian-casualties/

http://costsofwar.org/article/iraqi-civilians

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17114088

http://english.ryukyushimpo.jp/2014/03/04/13286/

Okinawa Traces of War: Haebaru Army Field Hospital


The Okinawa Army Hospital Unit 18803 was organized within the 32nd Imperial Japanese Army forces in Kumamoto in 1944.  Although medical activities started in Naha in June of that year, allied aircraft carrier attacks of 10/10 (as they are known to history) destroyed the hospital facilities, which forced a move of the hospital to the Haebaru National Elementary School building.  Soon thereafter, under guidance of the 32nd Army’s Engineering Unit, approximately 30 cave tunnels were dug into Aza Kyan and Aza Kanegusuku.

Buried Meds:  many medicines were found deeply buried and intentionally hidden.

Buried Meds: many medicines were found deeply buried and intentionally hidden.

In late March 1945, allied naval bombardment forced the abandonment of all the regular facilities, and the entire operation was moved into the cave system. The hospital was staffed by approximately 350 surgeons, nurses and hospitalmen, who were augmented by 222 female high school students from the First Prefectural Girl’s High School (Himeyuri Gakuto), who trained and served as nursing aids under the guidance of 18 of their teachers.  The director of the hospital was Hiroike Bunkichi.

Patient items recovered in the cave.

Patient items recovered in the cave.

Although initially organized into three departments of Infectious Diseases, Surgery, and Internal Medicine, after allied forces landed on the first of April, 1945, the hospital reorganized all the wards into the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Surgical Departments due to the sharp increase in battle-related injuries requiring emergency intervention.

Charred Support Beams:  Charring is thought to be from the use of US flamethrowers, a common weapon used to clear and destroy tunnels.

Charred Support Beams: Charring is thought to be from the use of US flamethrowers, a common weapon used to clear and destroy tunnels.

By the end of May, allied forces had pushed the Japanese far to the south of Okinawa, and the decision was made for all Japanese forces to retreat to the Mabuni area to make a last, protracted stand.  The order was sent to the hospital to disband and move all ambulatory patients by foot.  Those that could not travel were given potassium cyanide in their milk, and, as the museum’s brochure in English states, “…and compulsion of self-determination was carried out on this occasion.”  The Japanese killed all their seriously ill patients, and I’m not sure if this was out of compassion to end their suffering, or simply an act of murder so that they would not fall into US hands where they could provide military intelligence.

An American M4 Tank Turret recovered in the area.

An American M4 Tank Turret recovered in the area.

A visit to this sit starts in the Haebaru Town Museum, just west and across a ridge from the tunnel’s entrance. This museum houses a terrific reproduction of the hospital bunker complex, and is designed to give visitors a feel of the conditions at the time.  It features replicas of bunk beds (which you can try out), and an operating table as well as artifacts from the original tunnel.  Realistic replicas of an Imperial Portrait Shrine and a War Dead Memorial bring visitors to the time of Japanese militarization, begun decades prior to the Battle of Okinawa.

Okinawa 2014, Japanese 32nd Army Field Hospital, medicines and medical implements

I visited the tunnel during what turned out to be a tropical storm, and I’m happy I did. I think it provided a more realistic experience.  To get to the tunnel, you walk along the trace of the old footpath that leads to and from the kitchen area and well which supplied the entire tunnel complex.  It has been improved with a modern set of stairs, and thankfully so; moving up and over a substantial ridge would have been otherwise a challenge in the driving wind, rain, and slippery mud-soaked surfaces.

Okinawa 2014, Japanese 32nd Army Field Hospital, food portage for the tunnels

Tunnel #20, the only one reinforced enough to be open to the public, is a man-made tunnel completely dug by hand, measuring roughly 70 meters in length (230 feet) and about 1.8 meters in height and width (a smidgen under 5’11”). It was the main tunnel used by the 2nd Surgical Department, where the eastern half of the tunnel accommodated patients; the central “T” intersection with another tunnel was where most surgeries were performed; and where the western half quartered the staff which worked there.

Okinawa 2014, Japanese 32nd Army Field Hospital, Tunnel #20 recreation

My guide open the doors to the tunnel, and a river of water greeted us as it was freed to seek itself further down the hill. The cave tunnel was much smaller than I expected and that reproduced in the museum, and I found myself having to at least nod my head downwards, otherwise my hardhat would be riding along the tunnel’s ceiling.  Lighting was originally provided by candles spaced quite far apart, today the only light comes from the small flashlights provided with your admission fee, and the passage is at once impedingly dank and dark.  The tunnel was leaking everywhere, and water pooled in various depressions along the earthen floor.  While some areas have been reinforced with modern construction techniques and materials, much of the tunnel remains bare rock.

Crossing tunnels which have collapsed.

Crossing tunnels which have collapsed.

Most artifacts have been moved down into the town museum, but there are still some left in place, which are pointed out by the guide. All the remains have been removed and reburied.  The one thing missing from the actual tunnel is the missing bunk beds which billeted patients.  These “beds” were bare wood planking, just over 35 inches in width.  Keep in mind our standard twin size bed is 39 inches…and even kids’ narrow beds are generally 36 inches wide!  Each patient got a canteen for water, a small dish for food (which consisted only of rice balls, the size of Ping-Pong balls by the end of the war), and a pot in which to relieve themselves.  No light, no padding, no sheets, and probably not a lot of hope.

Doctor and Nurse ready a surgical table.

Doctor and Nurse ready a surgical table.

And after leaving the site, that was the overwhelming emotion with which I was left: hopelessness.  While Japan did bring the war on themselves, and there is absolutely no doubt that many Japanese regulars were violent and vicious actors playing their parts in a morally-bankrupt Imperial Japan, I stand by my claim that I wish no one’s son (or daughter) die in conditions or place like this.  Do me a favor:  if you visit, divorce yourself from whatever prejudice you may hold from your own conditioning, education, and exposure to World War II.  Remember, at our cores, there is not much that separates us in our shared human condition.  Death is death, and loss is loss, no matter.  War is tragedy, and immoral by most any definition.

Okinawa 2014, Japanese 32nd Army Field Hospital, deep dank dark small rainy cave by flashlight only

The town of Haebaru opened the 1st Surgery Tunnel #20 in 2007 as an important cultural asset that serves to educate the public about the misery and tragedy of war, and to protect this history for future generations to learn from.  The Hospital Tunnel is open from 0900-1700 by reservation only, and is closed on Wednesdays, and across the Japanese New Year holidays (Dec 29-Jan 3).  Admission is 200 Yen.  Phone 098-889-7399; Address 257 Kyan, Haebaru-cho, Okinawa 901-1113.

Deep in Hospital Tunnel #20 with my Japanese Guide

Deep in Hospital Tunnel #20 with my Japanese Guide

The Haebaru Town Museum is open from 0900-1800, and is closed on Wednesdays and across the Japanese New Year holidays (Dec 29-Jan 3). Admission is 300 Yen.  Phone 098-889-7399; Address 257 Kyan, Haebaru Town, Okinawa; Email bunka-c@town.haebaru.okinawa.jp.

 

Read more about this topic here:  Okinawa’s Sobering Sick-Wards

Paradise Lost: Okinawa 2004-2005


PARADISE_LOST5“The only paradise is paradise lost.”  ~ Marcel Proust

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”  ~~ John Milton, Paradise Lost

My wife (at the time) was getting glammed up for another practice with the Okinawan rock-band (Pavlov’s Dogs) she had befriended while I was deployed and who with she was going to sing a gig in the coming weeks.  Her being naturally theatrically inclined and blessed with an alluring presence much more than a singing voice, I actively supported this opportunity for her.

Taken the night she spent "with the band."

Taken the night she spent “with the band.”

“Just don’t sleep with the band,” I half-jokingly commented as I righted her head scarf, readying her to head out into the chilly night air.

But she did….  And so much worse.

My ex's haunt while I was away.

My ex’s haunt while I was away.

I’ve written extensively about my first time living on Okinawa (1999-2001) in Shipwrecked on the Island of Misfit Toys, and this reflection serves as the 2nd installment of what will become a three-part series covering my drastically different flirtations with the Far East.  While my first can best be characterized as a fun-filled and zany-at-times misfit adventure, my second foray in Japan bypasses all the shades of gray and takes a much darker turn to black.

My Mother ended up passing away in 2001 while I was half-a-world-away on some stinkin’ gray-hulled ship off the coast of Australia.  Her death was expected, and thankfully I had been previously sent home when she was diagnosed with inoperable and rather advanced, terminal lung cancer.  Oddly enough, that was my second time home on Emergency Leave within a year from Okinawa, since months prior my brother was diagnosed with advanced stage 3 kidney cancer.  It was a tough time on my family, but particularly for my ex.

My spouse, “DJ”’ as she was called, seemed to react increasingly poorly to these crises, particularly to my mother’s death, but these were probably only precipitating events.  She entered a very dark time in our collective lives.  After a year or two of intense therapy and treatment once we moved back to the states in 2001, she was diagnosed as suffering from intense Bipolar Disorder.  In hindsight, it made perfect sense:  her highs were what set her apart and made her so intriguingly creative, energetic and attractive, but the days and sometimes weeks of zombie-like lack of participation in life (sans the brains-eating perhaps) was the price everyone had to pay.  There was treatment (primarily meds), and slowly, she started to come back to more “normal” life (if there is such a thing) starting in 2003.

Sunabe Seawall, a special place for my whole family.

Sunabe Seawall, a special place for my whole family.

My ex and kids had become enthralled with Okinawa during our short time spent living there from 1999-2001, so much so that we jointly and mutually agreed as a family to ask for reassignment back to Japan at the end of my duty in Miami, Florida, in 2004.  This was an easy assignment to get; remember, the job I asked for was as the de facto Misfit Toy-in-Charge in the land of many.  My Detailer, the officer who assigns jobs out to the fleet was more than eager to “pencil me in” to that specific billet exceedingly early, since filling the job was historically like pulling teeth…from a pissed off rabid cat…with sharpened claws.

Of course I did have some ulterior motives in seeking and taking these orders.  Recall at the time that we were intensely engaged in active combat operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  Now this isn’t meant to be a discussion focused on politics or even war; suffice it to say that I, back then and now, simply couldn’t support any of our actions in the Middle East, and wanted no part of what has turned out to be insanely bad ideas and perhaps America’s worst decisions of the new century.  The military forces I would be assigned to in Okinawa have historically been “fenced” or set aside from potential out-of-area global commitments so that they would always be ready and available to respond to certain likely, more local contingencies.  Namely, issues concerning North & South Korea, but more so, supporting Taiwan if China made any aggressive moves.  Oh yeah, and there’s the defense of Japan against, uhm, maybe the pissed-off whales that they continue to kill every year under the lame guise of “scientific research.”  So, in taking these orders I would return to a treasured 2nd home, and I would not be going to the dessert…either one (take your pick)…again.

Of course when you actively try to dodge an unwanted fate, sometimes you unknowingly dodge right into fate’s crosshairs.  So, we show up on Okinawa for the 2nd time in August 2004 and find out that the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), which I was tasked to support with Tactical Air Control, was on a no-notice open-ended deployment order for Iraq.

Fate is a bitch. But what I was to learn is that this deployment would be the least of my worries.

Afloat on the USS Essex 2004-2005

Afloat on the USS Essex 2004-2005

The three-ship Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) and 3,500 of my fellow sailors and marines were due to leave within two weeks.  Luckily for me, a series of serious typhoons in the area – a common occurrence in “typhoon alley” in every fall – delayed our departure (see Typhoons: A Divinely Okinawan Experience), enough so that I could buy and register the family two vehicles, secure an adequate domicile out in town, and get my pay settled and the kids enrolled in school.  I was PISSED at my command, particularly my commanding officer, who elected to tell me NOTHING of this situation prior to my family’s overseas move.

My initial 2-man stateroom on USS Essex.  I moved to a larger room later in the deployment.

My initial 2-man stateroom on USS Essex. I moved to a larger room later in the deployment.

“But it was classified, and we had no way of contacting you through secure means,” my Skipper protested in his defense.  “C’mon Skipper, how ‘bout ‘Hey Elvis, might want to leave your family and cats in the states for now….’  It’s not f–king rocket-surgery,” I complained, strongly voicing my disapproval of his lack of concern over my family.  I most certainly would have left my family in-place in Miami while I deployed for what turned out to be nearly 8 months; it seems I already sensed that nothing good would come of leaving my ex alone and mentally vulnerable.  Let’s just say the charged and colorful conversation with that particularly bad CO was the most insubordinate and disrespectful I’ve ever been while serving on Active Duty.  He deserved it.  He knew it, and as a result, said – and did little in return.

My Tactical Air Control detachment aboard USS Essex

My Tactical Air Control detachment aboard USS Essex

Off I go to war…again.  Ah, the Middle East.  I had already spent a year of my life deployed to the region in 1991 and 1993.  Now I was going back, this time assigned to the relatively safety of a ship instead of flying into harm’s way.  I admit I found myself in an increasingly depressed place.  I had not expected to be shipped away from my family for such a long period of time and to a combat zone that I would find almost ridiculous…if it weren’t for Americans spilling their blood and spending our treasure.  I held absolutely no support for the undeclared “war” that our privileged politicians elected to fight in Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the attacks of 9-11, and certainly had even less to do with weapons of mass destruction.  But under these fanatical tenets that lamely justified our deadly actions, whole masses of people were to be slaughtered.

While I was at war, my wife was hooking up on Gat 2 Street.

While I was at war, my wife was hooking up on Gat 2 Street.

176441272_a67bf93025_bFinding myself angry most of the time, I spent a lot of time in the ship’s gym.  Unfortunately, I seriously injured myself there early in our transit to the Persian Gulf.  Tearing a rhomboid muscle in my upper back, I no longer could work out or even be active, which was one of the few things allowing me to hang onto to my already stressed and strained sanity.  Worse, at the time there were only two qualified watch officers in the ship’s Tactical Air Control Center (TACC), and I was one of them.  As a result, I ended up standing “port and starboard” watch, working for 12 hours a day, every day, week after week.  More damaging, my work center more resembled an Okinawan cave than an office:  a constantly dark and dank radar room, kept at a morgue-like 60-65 degrees….  You know it’s bad that when you do go outside in the sunlight, your eyes actually HURT from being under fluorescent light for so long.

Me and "Sarge" on the Essex; he above anyone else helped me hang on to my sanity.

Me and “Sarge” on the Essex; he above anyone else helped me hang on to my sanity.

I’m not afraid of working, but pulling this type of shift-work for six or seven weeks at a time puts a heavy strain on anyone.  I found myself staring into the abyss; I was troubled, mentally and physically.  I started pulling back and becoming less and less interactive with my friends and shipmates afloat with me.

Sending the Marines ashore to fight the Battle for Fallujah, 2004

Sending the Marines ashore to fight the Battle for Fallujah, 2004

Christmas 2004; she had already started cheating.

Christmas 2004; she had already started cheating.

And while my wife certainly was fighting her own battles back home, our lives were slowly becoming unraveled.  It would seem obvious that we would be openly communicating at this difficult juncture in our lives.  However, given our individual trials and tribulations, instead of positive, reinforcing and mutually support, neither of us could find the means to back the other.

Clear evidence of Bipolar Disorder.

Clear evidence of Bipolar Disorder.

She also claimed to be a victim

She also claimed to be a victim

Yes, or course I am in-part culpable for some, maybe many of the problems that existed between my ex and I; I am clearly no saint and have skeletons in my closet just like everyone else.  BUT, I certainly did not turn to promiscuity as a solution.  Long before my ex even hinted at her growing displeasure with our marriage, she was already looking for solace in places one shouldn’t – someone else’s bed.  Worse, her close friends and family knew, and not one of them actively stepped in to give her some hard advice and tough love.  By the time I returned from this deployment, the marriage was lost.  I just didn’t know it yet.

Another frequented bar for my ex

Another frequented bar for my ex

My proof was about this good.

My proof was about this good.

Returning back home early in the spring of 2005 due to on-going problems with my neck (bulging disc) stemming from the poorly healed muscle tears in my upper back, DJ acted excited and happy.  Maybe she was.  However, she had already established her secret, slutty double-life.  And like anyone living a lie, it’s not long until the truth comes out.  She was caught, sticky-handed as it were, just before Easter in 2004.  “Black Friday” is what it became to be known.

One lady in my life stayed with me!  my loyal Okinawan cat "Tora"

One lady in my life stayed with me! my loyal Okinawan cat “Tora”

Dressed for the buffet of boys

Dressed for the buffet of boys

She moved out, and took up independent residence a few blocks away from my apartment in Chatan-cho, Okinawa.  The kids initially alternated a week there and then a week with me, but ultimately it was decided (against my wishes) that my son would stay with me and my daughter with her mother.  We even split our two cats.  Splitting the family was bad enough, but my ex’s repeated seconds at her all-you-could-eat “buffet of boys” constantly and readily available on Okinawa was where we both, I believe, bottomed-out.

0173cc499216631addd4fe20f7dc3f20558d7e11184856335c61d205e16751c6

Maybe she was just bad to begin with.

Maybe she was just bad to begin with.

She claimed to be “in love” with a punk she met in a bar.  Her relationship with this newly proclaimed “soul mate” – the 2nd soul mate on the island counting the lead singer of the band mentioned in this blog’s opening – is a tale as old as time.  Screwing anyone in a minivan forty minutes after meeting in a bar is not love, it’s just skankiness.  I was pissed, partly because my ex was being played so badly, and everyone knew it, it appeared, except her.  When I tracked this hooligan down, it turned out he had a wife and kids back in Hawaii (and the band’s singer was married with kids as well) where he was stationed as a Marine.  Oh, but it gets better:  a Thai bar-girl, a nicety for prostitute, showed up on Okinawa a week or three after his affair with my ex was found out, claiming that her infant was his.  He did not deny it to the Marine Corps or to my ex (who believed that he was just helping the prostitute out of the kindness of his heart), and actually declared the child his dependent.  Karma is a bitch; while the USMC wouldn’t do much about his affair with my wife, there was no way to dodge a charge of adultery when there is ultimate physical proof:  a baby.  He was, at best, looking at forced separation from the service, and potentially even a Courts Martial.  He certainly doesn’t deserve to be called “Marine.”

Unfortunately the shirt no longer applied.

Unfortunately the shirt no longer applied.

For a few months I made this untenable situation work.  But not well.  Initially I tried to repair and patch the marriage.  I was entirely unhappy and rather depressed; I stopped eating, attempted run my anger away into miles of pavement, and generally ignored work and the more enjoyable aspects of life.  I felt lost on the island that I considered a second home; my passion for the Okinawan culture and scuba diving that had so much subsumed my attentions of the past seemed to have been lost.

Sunabe Seawall from my daughter's bedroom window, 2004

Sunabe Seawall from my daughter’s bedroom window, 2004

Because of my ex’s corrupt conduct, and as she was not only putting me in a difficult situation, but a whole slew of enlisted men in similar circumstance, I approached my Chain of Command asking that my dependents be returned early to the states.  In conversation with my Chief of Staff at the time, I distinctly remember telling him, “Nothing good will come of this; this island is too small for both of us [my ex and I] to share….”

Another way of portraying "nothing good will come of this"

Another way of portraying “nothing good will come of this”

To make a very long story short, I ended up involved in an altercation with one of my ex’s lovers, a 21 or 22 year-old Army Specialist.  He ended up at the ER, and I ended up being investigated by the Army’s version of NCIS.  Believe me, it’s NOTHING like the TV show.  It was a messy situation:  a very junior army enlisted man committing adultery with an officer’s wife, culminating in a fish-fight with a Navy officer in the foreign and sensitive streets of Okinawa.

The punk is still alive.

The punk is still alive.

Interestingly and justifiably so, no charges were pressed and the Army issued an Order that this particular soldier stay away from my family (the Marines did the same with the “other” guy).  I was given a “Non-Punitive Letter of Reprimand,” which was just fine with me.  At least I won the fight…and would safely retire upon reaching twenty years of service.  Oddly enough though, instead of my ex being kicked off the island, I was the one who was unjustly punished and sent home nine months early.

Leaving Okinawa was bittersweet.  One of us – my ex or I – needed to go.  But I was the one who had job as an Active Duty service member, but most importantly I didn’t cheat and ultimately cause this cascade of woe.  It was clear that my ex and kids would be much better served back in the states in more familiar territory and with a much larger support network.  And I would have financially fared much better as I ended up paying for her separate and sinister life since she remained largely unemployed on Okinawa.  The military lawyers, however, thought differently, and so did my Commanding Officer.

My ride home, late 2005.

My ride home, late 2005.

In the end, my own personal saving grace materialized quite unexpectedly.  When the Admiral I worked for, Admiral Victor G. Guillory, found out about my altercation, of course he wanted to see me ASAP.  And of course I was scared to death to see the man under such embarrassing and regretful context.  He and I had worked well and closely in the past months; in fact, I became his “briefing boy” for 7th Fleet since I could brief and stand my ground with senior officers.  When I walked into his office, he unexpectedly greeted me with a warm handshake and a smile.  I was shocked and taken aback.

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“Elvis [my callsign during my time in the Navy], we – I owe you an apology,” he started the conversation.  I was stunned into silence, expected rather to have my ass handed to me for such regretful behavior.

“I had no idea what was going on with you, and let me be clear:  The Navy has failed you,” he continued.  I had been trying for months to get help and placate the situation.  First, through the command’s Senior Medical Officer since my ex shouldn’t have ever screened for living overseas with BPD, and then through official Legal channels to force my ex back home.  My ex had her diagnosis changed to a condition that was approved for overseas, and the lawyers –being the spineless reptiles they are – ridiculously ruled that compelling my ex to leave would potentially violate her rights, a risk they were not willing to initiate.  I then attempted to get help through the Chaplain, who did nothing but offer me counsel, and both first and finally through the Admiral’s Chief of Staff, who simply failed to raise any of these issues beyond his office.  From what I understand, is was the COS who actually got his ass handed to him, the Admiral carefully explaining that he deserved to know of any serious issue affecting any of his officers.

Leaving Paradise, for the 2nd Time

Leaving Paradise, for the 2nd Time

The Admiral said he would genuinely miss me, but that Big Navy was adamant about getting me off the island due to the sensitive political situation that seems to be permanently present in Japan.  I understood.  While I wasn’t able at the time to voice my deep and sincere appreciation for the compassion and empathy that the Admiral showed, it has never left me and since has informed my own sense and style of leadership.

While my Okinawan paradise may have been lost, I slowly started to find myself again.  Between my unexpectedly honorable treatment by the Admiral at my departure, and a truly gifted PhD psychologist (thanks Dr. Ing!) who opened my eyes and mind to a stark and unwanted reality, I was able to start climbing out of the abyss.

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The mind can indeed and usually does create a prison stronger than any steel or concrete, and often fabricates a hell far worse than anything prescribed in scripture.  Having pried my mind open to the light of a brighter future, I sadly said “sayonara” to Okinawa.  However, it was with optimism for an unknown future, one that lay in the brilliant sunrise of a new day as I prepared to travel home back East.