Pro Deo Et Patria- An Army Chaplain

I am a chaplain in the US Army, serving in Iraq. I'm keeping a blog to share my thoughts and experiences while deployed. They are my thoughts and they don't necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Army! :)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Quick Post

I am just in between training- tomorrow, probably around 5am, we will head out to the field/woods, where we will stay until late Saturday. Whee. It'll be busy, but I'm enjoying the training. Today was training with Humvees, in terms of what to do about IEDs, how to dismount and take positions when the convoys come under fire, and things like that.

A bunch of you have emailed me, and I will get back to you soon- maybe this Sunday after training is done. I just don't have much time on the computer right now, and none (obviously) until we get back from the field. God bless!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Gas Chambers and More Fun

Well, it turns out that I have today off! Wow...that was need after training that lasted until midnight last night. I could hardly see straight at the end of the day. I was wiped out, and was grateful to be able to sleep in this morning. Tomorrow is supposed to be our four days in the field- they take us out to a remote area, about 20 miles into the woods- and we train out there. However, rumor has it we might NOT be able to do it this week. I mention rumors, because rumors are always part of Army life. They are usually wrong (95% of the time). But sometimes they are true; so, the key is: Semper Gumby (always be flexible).

Last night, we did the NBC training (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical). It began with us going into the gas chambers, filled with CS gas usually. Last night, the gas burned my skin more than usual, but I assume it was still CS gas. All of my exposed skin (e.g., my neck, and, uh, the top of my head since I'm bald) started burning like a very bad sunburn right away. Then we did jumping jacks and jogging in there for a bit. After that we had to remove our gas masks for slow five count and put them back on. Then we did some more jumping jacks and jogging, and finally, before we could leave the chamber, we had to remove the masks completely. At that point, the sunburn feeling went into my nose and throat and eyes. But once you leave the gas chamber, it passes after a few minutes. Truth be told, I like going to the gas chamber.

We also finished our land navigation in the morning. We took humvees and they gave us grid coordinates (e.g. BV 9854 5567) and we needed to plot them on a map, and find our way there using the map and a GPS unit. The GPS unit makes it very easy, but our conked out. We did fine because we mapped them correctly, however.

At the top of this posting is a picture of me in the humvee during the land nav- looking goofy as my helmet is slightly cockeyed. I have the map in hand. We all took a different role- I plotted all 12 points on the map, my chaplain assistant drove, another chaplain got out and look at the spots where we went for the code we had to write down, and Staff Sergeant with us monitored the GPS.

Other things to note:
-I've been doing quite a bit of informal counseling as soldiers come up to me to talk.
-The bus shuttle schedule here is, well, not a schedule. The drivers are nice though.
-I'm getting used to the heat, and have started to feel cold in air conditioning. I wonder what I'll do if I come home for R&R in January?

Anyway, everyone have a great day. I miss all of you back home, and I'll write more when time allows.

God bless,


Monday, June 26, 2006

Staying Busy

Well, I have a break in training- which I didn't think I would- so I have some time to write a little. Yesterday was busy; land navigation in the morning (i.e., using a compass, map, GPS to navigate on foot), following was WTT (Warrior Task Training, also called CTT) in the evening. WTT is the basic soldiering stuff that we got in basic- treating injuries, high crawling, low crawling, throwing hand grenades (well, chaplains don't get to do that, but I still stay with my soldiers while they do), and so on. Unfortunately, it starting pouring as we started, and my group my was doing the high crawl/low crawl portion. So we were soaking wet during the whole evening, and by the time training was done around midnight, I was just getting dry.

Tonight we have more WTT training, including going through the gas chamber! Haven't done that since Officer Basic Course. I expect we'll be done tonight around the same time- close to midnight.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

One more quick post- Podcasting

I just read my last post, and I mentioned that I had sermons on my iPod. Many of you know about this (it's called Podcasting), but if not, here is a the deal: If you download the iTunes software from Apple (, there are broadcasts, from sermons, to sports, to entertainment, that you can download for FREE. (most of iTunes is music and TV shows you buy, but podcasts are free). Anyway, once you have downloaded iTunes, and opened it, look for the "Music Store." Click on that, and then look for the word "Podcasts." Play with it for a while, and you'll see that you can search. If you look under Inspirational and then Christian, there are thousands of churches that have both audio and video podcasts. You don't need an iPod to listen to them! If you download the sermon, you can listen to it on your computer.

You can also subscribe to the church podcats, and once you do, it will automatically download a new one when they're available (but you have to open the iTunes software first). I have subscribed to a number of them, including: Mars Hill Vodcast ('s a church from Seattle), Lutheran Church of Hope (audio, West Des Moines), The Harbor (audio from a very cool LCMC church from Hilton Head Island, South Carolina), and a few others.

In the American Grill

Well, as I write I'm sitting in the American Grill. That is the name of a small cafeteria style building with burgers, fries, pop...sort of like a Dairy Queen without the Ice Cream. :) Anyway, this is where the only wireless access is on the whole Army Post. It isn't cheap- I paid $50 for a month's worth of access, but it is well worth it! After writing, I'm going to go peruse the ESPN web site for a while and read the news. Life is good!

Tomorrow we start a very busy week. Land Navigation and Warrior Task Training tomorrow. I will not be able to go to chapel, unfortunately. I've got some sermons on my iPod however, and I can go to the LCC website and listen to Sharon's upcoming sermon from this weekend at some point during the week.

That's about it from here. God bless you all!


Friday, June 23, 2006

Online in Mississippi

Wow! I'm finally able to update my blog. It's been a little bit of time. First things first: I miss all of you in Iowa (and Minnesota and Florida). I miss Iowa, too. It's easy to forget how awesome the midwest is until you leave.

Here are some pictures of where I am staying.

This first one (on the left) is a picture of my barrack. Nice, huh? Yeah, right. It's a conder block building and the picture makes it look nicer than it is on the outside. But inside? Not so bad. The air conditioning is VERY strong. In fact, I got there and took the bunk beneath the AC because I thought that was smart, but was so cold the first night that I could hardly sleep. I have taken to sleeping in sweats, and using my towels to form a barrier between the air conditioner and myself.

The second picture is my bunk and living space. I now have my stuff kind of arranged in the locker to the left (from your view) of my bed, and it's not so bad. Not good. But could be worse.

Personally, I'm getting into the swing of things. I was quite down the first two days. I have no problem saying that as a chaplain because I understand what other soldiers experience, as I experience it myself. Being away from my family is just about the worst thing in the world. I can't quantify it. BUT, God is awesome, and my spirits have really lifted today, as I expected.

Today and tomorrow we have quite a bit of time. We have already been through the SRP process (essentially paperwork) and been issued equipment. We got through all of it in about four hous, and it takes some units a whole week. This coming Sunday through Saturday, we will cram about 3 months of training into that time. Why? Because I requested it (pushed for it). I want to get our work done in terms of the basic soldiering training because then I can work on some chaplain specific training as well as help out in the chapel!

Here is my address down here:

CPT, Magnell, Christian

Replacement Company

2490 25th Street

Camp Shelby, MS 39407

I also have my cell phone with me, for those of you that know that number. I will write more, possibly tomorrow, but Sunday (June 25) through Saturday (July 1st) you may not hear from me. God bless you all.


Monday, June 19, 2006

Weekend thoughts

Just a couple thoughts for today:

First, about the soldiers who are missing: this breaks my heart. I ask that anyone reading this blog take some time to pray for the soldiers who are have gone missing. IF they have been captured, these would be the first soldiers actually captured since SGT Keith Maupin. Let's pray for their safety. After a week of good news, this is a reminder that Iraq remains a dangerous area.

Second, I'm also thinking about the people of Iraq today. One of the comments I've heard, repeatly, goes something like this: "I just don't think those people can ever make democracy work." I know I've commented on this before, but this type of attitude is quite narrow-minded (as well as somewhat racist). It also shows how quickly we forget history. After World War Two, people were saying the sames things about the Japanese and Germans. "Those Germans and Japanese just can't make democracy work." 60 years later they are strong allies with robust economies.

Will the same happen in Iraq? Who knows. But this I know: all people are created in the image of God, and we must give them the benefit of the doubt. I would also point out the example of South Korea, which in the last 50 years has not only become a solid democracy, but has also been converting to Christianity in great numbers (around 1/3 to 1/2 of the nation is now Christian). Check out this interesting article about great number of missionaries being sent FROM South Korea to the rest of the world. This article even mentions a South Korean missionary martyred in Iraq.

The bottom line? Pray for the people of Iraq- all of them. Ask that God would bring peace, the light of Christ, and a hopeful future.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Interesting news week

It was interesting to see Congress debate the war in Iraq this week. There was a vote in the Senate to remove the troops from Iraq, and only 6 Senators voted for it (i.e., only 6 voted to remove the troops from Iraq). Among those six who voted to withdraw are troops were Tom Harkin (Iowa), John Kerry and Ted Kennedy. I can't believe they actually believe we should cut and run. I'm glad it didn't pass. In my opinion, the US needs to finish what it started; while we Americans have increasingly shorter attention spans, we cannot afford to do this with international affairs. This week shows that we are making progress. Japan and South Korea are great examples of what happens when we stick by our commitments; the persecution of Christians in Viet Nam shows what happens when we don't follow through. I would like to think that the US is a nation that doesn't quit. The insurgents in Iraq have been counting on us to quit, as documents seized from Al-Zarqawi have indicated. But you know what? I have a good feeling we're not going to quit this effort, and that we will see this thing through.

Another interesting news item: apparently Saddam was cultivating relations with the Taliban before 9/11 Click here for the article. I bet it won't get much coverage. :) Saddam and the Taliban had discussed their common enemy, the US, and had agreed to a secret intelligence relationship. If we can stick this thing out, and the Iraqis can maintain this democracy, I believe that history will look very kindly on getting Saddam out of power, as well as overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Last Rites?

Someone asked me the question the other day: could/would I give Last Rites to a dying soldier? My knee-jerk reaction was no, but then I thought about it for a little while. This is a good question, and like any sort of religious act that falls outside what a Lutheran would normally do, I would have to ask two questions: would the faith of the soldier in question allow me to do so, and would my faith allow me to do so?

First, the issue of Last Rites (also called Annointing of the Sick): this is a Roman Catholic sacrament, and only ordained, Roman Catholic priests are supposed perform them. There are exceptions, but I don't know if this would be one of those exceptions, and, honestly, Ill have to ask this question of a priest before I go.

Second, is the question of whether or not I would be comfortable doing last rites. I don't know enough about them to answer yes or no. There are certainly some things I would do that I might not be comfortable with, but as long as it offered Christian comfort to a dying person, and it didn't contradict my faith I'd be fine. An example: when I was working as a hospital chaplain, one of the spanish speaking priests asked if I wanted to go help him "confirm" a dying young girl. Confirmation, for the Roman Catholics, is a sacrament. I don't agree with that, and didn't think she needed to be confirmed before dying. However, it also wasn't something that blatantly contradicted my faith either, so I was glad to help. Last Rites might fall under that category. Do I believe a special prayer is necessary before dying? No. Might I perform them, if I was allowed, and the circumstance was very specific? Maybe. It's about using pastoral judgment.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

One week to go

Well, it's one week from today until we leave for Mississippi. While I'm sad to leave my family, I'm excited to get going with everything. I am very proud to be deploying; for so many years I have supported the military from the sidelines, and now I actually get to go and serve this country myself.

There is very little left in terms of preparation. I continue to try and get into shape. This morning I ran 6.25 miles- over three laps around Gray's Lake in Des Moines. I was tempted to finish the fourth and go 8 miles, but I figured I shouldn't push it.

On another note, yesterday President Bush flew to Iraq to visit with the new Prime Minister of Iraq. Contrary to what some might say in the media, things are looking up in Iraq. I wish we got both sides of the story; no, let me rephrase that- I wish we were not in such a negative phase in our nation right now. Honestly, I like George Bush and think he's doing a very good job under difficult circumstances. I understand those who have policy disagreements with him; I just don't know why we, as a nation, have made it so personal toward those with whom we disagree.

President Bush is just finishing up a press conference as I speak. It sounds like the Iraqi government, with our assistance and guidance, has a plan and is headed in the right direction.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Becoming a chaplain

To the right is the crest of the US Army Chaplain Corps, which was founded in 1775, making it the second oldest (after the infantry) part of the Army. Pro Deo Et Patria means "For God and Country."

So how do you become a chaplain? Well, there are three main things to become an Army chaplain, involved in the application process: getting a secret clearance, having the educational requirements, and being endorsed by a recognized religious endorser.

First, the secret clearance: Chaplains must have a secret clearance, and this involves an in depth background check into your finances, moral life, and the like.

Second, educational requirements: you must have not only a bachelor's degree, but also a Master of Divinity, or the equivalent to be a chaplain. Because of this, chaplain's are commissioned not as 2nd Lieutenants, but 1st Lieutenants, and make Captain soon after.

Finally, you must be endorsed by a recognized religious endorser. Religious groups can apply to be recognized by the Department of Defense as endorsing bodies. Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) recently became a recognized body, and, I will actually be the first LCMC chaplain to deploy. I'm proud to represent LCMC as a chaplain.

The endorser is important. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Army cannot ask a chaplain to do anything that would contradict his/her own faith, according to the doctrine of the chaplain's endorsing body. Hence, as a Lutheran, I will not be asked to lead a Jewish worship service. This is part of the Constitution's protections on the free expression of religion.

I'm proud of the way in which the Army respects the religious beliefs of its soldiers, as well as encouraging soldiers to practice their own faith as best as they can.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Mobilization Briefings

Last night we had the mobilization briefings that are held for soldiers and their families prior to being mobilized. They included information on Tricare (the military health system), Military One Source (a free reference and counseling source for all soldiers and their families), legal information, words of encouragement, as well as the chaplain's briefing and a ceremony in which we and our families were given coins.

The exchange of coins is a military tradition. Many units have specially designed coins, as do certain high ranking officers. For example, last night we received coins designed for the commander of the 89th RRC (who currently is Major General Broadway) which reflect service as a mobilized soldier.

There was a lot of information, but it was helpful. Personally, with my limited experience over the past few years, I believe the Army does a good job of supporting and encouraging its soldiers. Do people fall through the cracks? Of course. But they really try hard to get us the information needed; the key is to pay attention even if you think you won't ever need it.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Zarqawi Dead

By now, everyone is hearing the reports that the United States killed the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. This is, of course, great news for the people of Iraq and the US, but it also re-inforces the progress we are making in this war.

People seem to forget that a war like this- of fighting terrorists, and trying to establish democracy- will take some time, and will not be measured in gains of land, or peace treaties, and the like.

We have to look back and see what has happened:

+Afghanistan and Iraq are both fledgling democracies.
+Much of the senior leadership of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq has been killed or captured, including Zarqawi.
+Saddam Hussein is on trial for crimes against humanity.
+Thousands of lower level Al Qaeda terrorists have been captured and interrogated, leading to countless thwarted attacks on the US and our allies. The thwarted terror attack on Canada in the last week is an example.

I also am reminded by his death of the way in which so many people have begun to believe that somehow the war in Iraq is a distraction from the War on Terror. Yet today they annouce that the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq has been killed. Who are we fighting over there, if not Al Qaeda and the terrorists who declared war on us?

While I don't think this means the insurgency will shrivel up and die, this does serve as a reminder that we are winning, bit by bit, and today we got a really big bit!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Home Station Training

Today was my second day on home station training. This is, essentially, a period during which we train on certain Unit Ministry Team tasks, as well as basic soldier skills (Warrior Task Training- WTT), as well as continue to pack our own supplies for mobilization. One of the tasks we trained on today was the Critical Incident Debriefing. This is a debriefing that a chaplain will give to a group of soldiers who have been through a traumatic event.

We're also doing PT (physical training) each morning. Today we ran four miles- twice around Gray's Lake here in Des Moines. I always feel better starting the day off with PT; I had been resting my knee after tweeking it during the Combat Lifesaver Course, but it feels great now.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Thanks to LCC!

Tonight was the 9th annual Jammin' For Jesus outdoor concert/festival at Lutheran Church of the Cross. It was also my last day in worship, in an official capacity, until I return from deployment.

With that said, I want to thank everyone at Lutheran Church of the Cross for the last five years, which have been an incredible blessing to me. I also appreciate the amazing amount of support that has been offered to my family and I over the weeks running up to now. I will miss you all while I am deployed, and can't wait to see you when I get back.

I also want to thank LCC for the open house held for me on Saturday night. There were folks that worked on organizing it- you know who you are- but I won't write your names in this public postings since I didn't ask your permission. But to those that hosted, planned, cooked, and did all of the other things to make it happen: thank you!

A lot of people have asked about this blog, and how it works. First of all, you can read my postings- which you know if you're reading this. But you can also leave comments; below each post is a place to make a comment. I look forward to hearing from everyone, and am eager to keep in touch with you as I walk through this deployment!

Friday, June 02, 2006

So what does a chaplain do?

Some people have asked what the role of a chaplain looks like in the Army. Obviously you think first about the role of a pastor, and that touches on it, but I thought I would elaborate a little using some of our training materials. In our training circular (which is public information), the role of a Unit Ministry Team (UMT) is described like this:

"The mission of the UMT is to provide military religious support (RS) to soldiers, families, and authorized civilians as directed by the commander. To perform this mission, each chaplain fulfills two roles: religious leader and special staff officer- ensuring the following key tasks are completed:
-Religious Support for all faith groups
-Moral leadership
-Emergency religious support
-Provision of professional expertise to the commander on free exercise of religion, morals, morale, and the ethical impact of command decisions
-UMT readiness.
Religious Support actitivies are address in FM 1-05 using the terms "perform" and "provide." Chaplains "perform" the religious support when their actions are in accordance with the tenets or beliefs of their own endorsing faith group. Chaplains "provide" religious support for religious services that they cannot personally perform." Taken from TC 1-05

The last part of that revolves around a question I get asked a lot: do chaplains have to do religious actions for different religions than their own? The answer is emphatically no. I cannot perform a religious action- like leading Islamic worship, or leading mass- that is outside my faith group. First of all, it would infringe on my faith and on my endorsement as a Lutheran chaplain to ask me to do something outside of my own faith, and second, it would disrespect and infringe on the faith of the people of the other religious group.

The Army is good about ensuring that we never do anything that would contradict our faith, as well as trying its hardest to meet the religious needs of all soldiers.

This begins to give an idea of what chaplains do, and in future posts I will elaborate on that a bit.