I served in the United States Army Reserves for 12 years. April 29th was my End of Service date, one which required me to contract a third time with the army to continue being a soldier. I opted out this time around, even though the army threw many incentives at me to stay in. Including promotion to E-7, Sergeant First Class. I know, however, how unstable it is being in the military. Even the reserves require a level of interruption that wreak havoc on anything one is trying to do in the civilian world. Instead of re-enlisting, I “got out” hoping to finish my seminary and ordination studies uninterrupted. You see, I’m planning on getting back in, this time around as a chaplain. This in of itself was a pretty huge transition at the time even though now it seems so natural, to become a chaplain.
So, I got out.
Today in some weird twist of ignorance and circumstance, I made my last act of service as a Staff Sergeant and my first act as a chaplain.
This beautiful cemetery is Edmonds Memorial Cemetery, where they hold an annual Memorial Day Service in honor of our country’s service-members, especially our MIA/POW. A few months ago a man called me to ask if I’d be willing to give the benediction at this year’s service. He’d received me as a recommendation from a pastor of the church I attended when I used to live in Edmonds. I enthusiastically said yes of course, but wasn’t sure if I’d be able to wear my uniform since my “get out” date was in April. The man insisted I do, and said he would even get something official from the Mayor if it turned out to be a problem. I didn’t think it would be a problem as this was an official community ceremony in remembrance of our nation’s heros, of which I am.
Here are several VFW members setting up what’s known as the Missing Soldier’s Table (wiki). Some ceremonies, like the one I attended today, are more respectful of our Constitutional right to Freedom of Religion and therefore opt out of displaying the bible. This table is set in remembrance of our fallen, missing or imprisoned service-members. I find it to be incredibly moving, especially when explained in the context of a memorial service.
This is only a SLIVER of the crowd. I think close to 500 people attended the event! I don’t have a picture of me actually giving the benediction – maybe I can find it on a news website tonight. Many people came up to me afterwards and said it was very meaningful for them. After serving twice in Iraq, this became one of my proudest military moments. Plus, affirmations like this really feed my calling. I’m also genuinely and humbly grateful to support such a community event along-side other service-members, some all the way back from WWII. Definitely from Vietnam and Korea. I’m a part of this. Little Meggie Rodgers from crab-apple cove, double combat veteran of Iraq, is a part of this.
In what I thought was a stroke of genius, I invited Jimmy to busk Pike’s Market with me for a little bit on my way home from the ceremony. We had played all weekend long, but like me, he’s a trooper and said yes. We put smiles on so many people’s faces, and so many people, veterans and civilians alike, thanked me for my service. At one point this very old, very small lady came up to me (I was bending down putting my fiddle away), and gave me a great, big hug! She looked into my eyes and said, in some accent I couldn’t quite place, “I love you.” I of course said I love you back and returned her great, big hug. I remembered my mom telling me of having a similar reaction from people on her travels across the globe when speaking of our family. Apparently, the United States military freed a bunch of Nazi occupied countries during WWII, and some people still remember. Some people from other countries still actually love us.
But then, some guy walked up to me and said I shouldn’t be doing this in uniform. He gave me a pretty hard time about it. He even went so far as to tattle on me to the police! I know this because a different person came up to me and told me he overheard the tattle! I knew the police wouldn’t do anything, but deep inside I felt unease. It’s not like this is some schtick that I do to get sympathy when busking. Even in my personal context however, I suddenly felt ashamed. I tried to shake that feeling thereafter.
Jimmy and I finished busking after about an hour and a half. I love him so much for coming out and supporting me after such a hard weekend of playing. I hope I can be there for him just as much when he needs it because it really meant the world to me. And now I have enough money to pay for another month of music lessons! At the very least, all a musician can ask is that their craft pay for itself.
But again, the unease, the shame! The minute I got home, I looked up the regs.
Turns out, no big deal. US Constitutional Law provides that a military uniform can be worn in a theatrical performance as long as it doesn’t discredit the military. Well, I certainly hope I did the army proud with my little fiddle.
However, turns out I was out of regs when giving the benediction! I should have been wearing a dress uniform, but instead I was wearing our normal, everyday duty uniform. I actually don’t even have the newest authorized dress uniform, and it didn’t even cross my mind to wear my old dress greens. Interestingly enough, many people told me they appreciated that I was wearing the familiar uniform. I think I was more approachable. It was especially meaningful for me that it was one of the uniforms I wore during my second tour in Iraq. We certainly didn’t wear our dress uniforms there. Heck, we didn’t even bring ‘em with!
And since the new dress blue uniform was the official dress uniform when I got out, I can’t participate in an official capacity wearing my dress greens. Looks like I’ll have to wait to get back in as a chaplain before giving another benediction!
Even with all my criticisms, I would never, ever, want to bring discredit to the army by wearing the uniform improperly or inappropriately. The only thing I would ever want to do on Memorial Day is show my pride in serving and remain in solidarity with our fallen, missing, and imprisoned service-members.
I guess all I have left for these old, dusty threads is as Vio Lin – fiddle player for Sweet Lou’s Sour Mash. Maybe this can become my ritual of transition – busking at Pike’s Market on Memorial Day. Though I suspect this will be the last time I busk in uniform as well.
Anywho, In honor of my fellow comrades across space and time, Happy Memorial Day, everybody.