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! :)

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


This is a picture of me preaching in chapel at the Gospel Service on Sunday. Sunday is always the highlight of my week; even in here in Iraq, I try to use it as a day of rest to the extent that I can here- I sleep in a little, and I enjoy the chance to be in worship.

I alsop want to include an extended quote from Dag Hammarskjold that speaks to me right now. I know I've been quoting him a lot, but he has a lot of good things to say. I want to include this quote in light of Jesus' words in John 14, when He says "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." Hammarskjold says:

Your "personal" life cannot have a lasting intrinsic meaning. It can acquire a contingent meaning, but only by being fitted into and subordinated to something which "lasts" and has meaning in itself. Is this something what we attempt to identify when we speak of "Life?" Can your life have a meaning as a tiny fragment of "Life?"

Does Life exist? Seek and you shall find, experience Life as reality. Has "Life" a "meaning?" Experience Life as reality and the question becomes meaningless.

Seek-? Seek by daring to take the leap into unconditional obedience. Dare this when you are challenged, for only by the light of the challenge will you be able to see the crossroads and, in full awareness of your choice, turn your back upon your personal life- with no right ever to look back.

You will find that "in the pattern" you are liberated from the need to live "with the herd."

You will find that, thus subordinated, your life will receive from Life all its meaning, irrespective of the conditions given you for its realization.

You will find that the freedom of the continual farewell, the hourly self-surrender, gives your experience of reality the purity and clarity which signify- self realization.

You must find that obedience requires an act of will which must be continually reiterated, and that you will fall, if anything in your personal life is allowed to slip back into the center.

Hammarskjold doesn't explicitly mention God here, but the meaning is clear: Jesus is Life. Our lives have no meaning of their own, apart from the meaning we have derived from God. We must place Him front and center, and walk in simple obedience. That is meaning.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Little Things

This morning I had a little victory. I went into the Dining Facility (DFAC) and got my usual breakfast- some bacon, hashbrowns, a biscuit, pineapple, and an apple pastry. But lo and behold the apple pastry had frosting on it! Score! It had been about a month since they had put frosting on them, but every morning I faithfully went to check and see if they had resumed frosting placement on the pastries. I don't know if there was a shortage or something, but the frosting has now returned.

Speaking of victories, and on a more serious note: about a victory in Iraq. I'm puzzled sometimes but how this war is portrayed. We talk about a victory in Iraq, but a lot of people don't understand that it will not be a victory in the traditional sense of victory. You see, we already won the war, as in the action taken to remove Saddam from power. That was accomplished. What we now are doing is assisting a new ally in rebuilding and sustaining their country. It makes the declaration of victory much more ambigous. Hence, I get tired of hearing the press talk about losing the war in Iraq.

Why? Because I don't think we are looking at this the right way, in terms of "win" or "lose." It is a much bigger struggle than that. We forget that there are real people involved in this, and we, as a nation, will be all the better off if there is a free, stable nation in Iraq. Iraq is right in the middle of the most conflicted part of our world. A democracy here, with growing ecomonic and educational wealth, will be nothing but a blessing to the world.

We also have a moral responsibility to see this through. We may lack the patience for "these people," as some might say, but the Iraqis are just as human and just as worthwhile as any of us. They matter. Their future should matter to us, because they too have been created by God.

It shouldn't surprise us that democracy might take a few years to figure out here. It took us longer than that. Heck, it took us almost 100 years to figure out that it wasn't right to keep a race of people enslaved. On that count, Iraqi democracy is progressing faster than ours did.

So here is what one Soldier in Iraq is asking for: patience. Let's be patient as Americans. While not everyone agrees as to why we're here, the fact is that we are here. The greater tragedy would be to give up and cause more pain for a people who have long been oppressed.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Conversations I don't have at home

The picture above is a billboard I saw along a road in Baghdad; I have no clue what it says, or who it is, but I think he might be the President of the Hair Club for Men, Iraqi Branch. That's just a guess, though.
I bumped into a fellow captain from my unit at the gym, late this afternoon, and I asked how he was doing, and he jokingly said "well, just trying to get some things done before we get a rocket attack tonight." We then went on to assess the odds of whether or not there would be any rockets or mortars coming in tonight; kind of like discussing an upcoming football game...again, somewhat jokingly.

As I walked away, I thought, "what a strange conversation." That is one thing I don't talk about at home. But what was most strange about it was that it wasn't strange.

Many days I walk around and I pretty much feel like I'm at home. People are people, and aside from the palm trees and the unique smell here, I really don't feel like it's any different. And, frankly, it's not.

I'm not facing a situation that is really all that bad. People in past wars have faced much worse. Moreover, there are people in day to day struggles with their health, their marriages, the job situations... whatever it may be, people have stress in all kinds of places.

The question is not, "do we face stress or strain," but, "how do we deal with it?" I can say without hesitation that on days where I am in the Word of God, I fare better. Regardless of where I'm located. On days where I find myself too busy to really dig in to the Bible, or spend time in prayer... well, I can tell the difference.

Being in Iraq isn't the most astounding thing around. It's simply another aspect of life. The same God who protects us during rocket attacks is the same God who guards our marriages, provides us food, and gives us peace in the midst of sickness.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Incarnational Letter

Sometimes something happens that just makes God physically tangible in a certain way. Communion is, of course, one of the ways God reminds us, physically, of His love and grace.

Well, today I received a letter that did the same thing. A classmate of my Father-in-law sent me a letter in which he offered words of encouragement, and told me that his intercessorary prayer group had been praying for me. Along with his letter was a bunch of short notes from members of that group.

It blew me away. I was brought to the verge of tears. I can't readily explain why. There are many people from back home who are praying for me and the other Soldiers, but something about receiving a hand-written note from a group of people in Nashville, Tennessee... it just reminded me, in a tangible, incarnational way, of the love of God.

God is amazing. How can someone like me have any right to serve Him? Yet God is so real, wonderful and present...but sometimes we are so inwardly focused that we fail to notice.

I walked out to the restroom earlier. I heard lots of gunfire. Some of it is Ramadan celebrations. Some of it is... well, who knows. Maybe firefights or somewhere else. But I do know this: the violence, hatred and chaos of this world is a passing phenomenon. God is coming... and His love is tangible for us now, as we wait for His move in this world.

Thank God for reminders like the letter I got today, as well as the many emails I get, every day, from people praying for all of us over here.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Right Road

Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step; only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find the right road. Dag Hammarskjold

I've had a few Hammarskjold quotes on my blog lately. I think this one is appropriate. It's so easy to get caught up into the busyness of life- of all the small, day-to-day decisions, that we don't always think about the big pictures.

But the right road, as Hammarskjold talks about, requires we focus on the horizon. Specifically, we need to focus our eyes on Christ, and ask where He would have us go. It's only when we get fearful of the individual steps, and take our eyes off the prize, that we begin to stumble.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Faith, Fear and Shelters

"Life only demands from you the strength that you possess. Only one feat is possible; not to run away." Dag Hammarskjold

I've been offline for a couple of days, but I'm back on now, and thinking a little bit about the rockets attacks and my own fears. You see, I have realized something while I am here: I'm not that brave. Don't get me wrong- when it comes to roller coasters or things like that, I love thrills and I love to push the limits. But when there are incoming rockets I realize that I'm not really brave. Not that I have wet my pants or starting crying, but I know that I really would rather NOT have rockets coming in. Just a preference. :)

But there is something about fear that is comparable to faith. I came to Iraq not because I'm brave, but because I've been called over here. First, the call has come from Uncle Sam, but even greater is that God has called me to minister to Soldiers. So, I really don't need to be brave, I just need to show up.

Faith works in a similar way. We don't need to "know." We don't need to be fearless or without anxieties. We just need to trust.

I am here in spite of my fears. I simply go to bed at night trusting that I will wake up. If I don't, then I won't need to walk by faith anymore, I'll get to walk by sight, in the presence of Christ.

That's how faith works. Faith doesn't mean we understand everything. Faith doesn't mean we have no doubts. Faith means we worship God in the midst of our confusion and doubts. Just like I'm here in spite of my fears, so my faith moves forward in spite of the feeble nature of my mind and my ability to believe. Faith means allowing God to move in our lives even if we don't see how it's going to happen.

Along with these thoughts, I wanted to address a question in the comments section. My dad asked about shelters. I'll try and answer that without violating any OPSEC issues: Yes, we do have shelters. If I am out walking around and a rocket or mortar comes in, I should make a dash for a shelter. However, if I am indoors, I should hit the floor and stay away from windows. Rockets and mortars pose two general threats: first, there is the actual blast. If a mortar or rocket hits within a certain distance, the blast will kill you. Outside of that, though, is the secondary threat from shrapnel and other debris. Shrapnel can fly a large distance and cause serious or fatal injuries.

So, if I'm in my room and rockets start hitting, the first thing I need to do is get down. If my body armor is close, I will toss it over me. Otherwise I will roll under the bed, or lay down at the base of it. I'm trying to protect myself from the threat of shrapnel coming in and hitting me.

Here is the bottom line: rockets and mortars are scary, but they do not pose a very great threat to our Soldiers. The aim of the insurgents is incredibly poor, and when they shoot them off, we can almost always see where they came from, which is bad for them, and good for us. They are fired off in a desparate way, and while scary, are not usually very effective.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Busy night

College football is one of my favorite things about the Fall. Being in Iraq, though, I’m not really able to follow it all that well. In addition, my internet has not been working much lately. However, tonight, I was able to get online a little and follow the Wisconsin victory over Purdue, taking us to 7-1. After seeing the score, it was time for bed. As I was sleeping, games like Michigan-Iowa would be starting.

As I often do on College Football weekends, I woke up in the middle of the night, around 3am, and thought “I’ll see if I can get online and just check the scores really quick.” So I did…and I saw that Iowa had lost to Michigan. Bonus!

I then decided to check my email, and saw that my wife had emailed me pictures, which was even more bonus! As I sat there, about to compose a quick reply before going back to sleep, I heard a boom.

I need to pause here, and explain the process of getting used to explosions. The first few weeks, as you experience rockets or mortars, you get more and more jumpy- at least, I did. I think that’s a common reaction. You hear a loud noise, you kind of get startled more than you normally would. However, after a while, you start to get acclimated, and you don’t jump at every loud sound or vibration. That’s my state of mind now.

So back to the sound…it sounded like an explosion, but I thought- Hmm… might be people moving a conex, nothing other than that. It didn’t sound very close regardless, so I went back to the email. Then I heard the second one, and that was MUCH louder and closer…and I thought "oh crap, that was definitely an explosion." So I jumped out of my chair, went to the foot of my bed, and half-heartedly crouched and waited. At that point, the sirens went off, and more explosions came in, closer and closer. One after another the explosions were louder. We were getting a serious barrage. So… I crawled under the bed, and began to earnestly pray. It was the longest sustained barrage we have had since I got here.

After a moment, there was a lull, so I got up, and picked up my body armor and helmet, and as I put them on, it began again, and I hit the floor. I didn’t fit under the bed anymore, but I had my armor on. After this second barrage, it finally stopped.

So, all in all, here is how my evening stacks up:

Wisconsin wins= very good
Iowa loses= bonus to my college football experience
Email from my wife= the best of it all
Incoming rockets= not good

Overall, though, still a pretty good night. Time for bed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Living out the "why"

"A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell." - C.S. Lewis

I woke up early this morning (or night... when is it early enough to be night and not morning?) when my cell phone rang, and I was informed that we had a Red Cross message for a Soldier. Red Cross messages are ways for people back home to communicate an emergency (such as a death in the family) to Soldiers. They are never pleasant.

Now I'm sitting at my computer. Once I wake up I'm usually up for good, and it's almost time for breakfast now, so I think I'm up for the day.

But I had a strangely nice experience after I met with the Soldier in question. I walked outside, and the morning was a cool one... it really feels nice when it cools down. There was a breeze blowing, and the palm trees were silouetted against a beautiful moon surrounded by stars. I just had a moment of thanking God for allowing me to be in this place, doing His work. I feel blessed to know God, and to be able to see His greater hand at work.

My question this morning is this: are you living out the "why" of your life? You see, God has a reason for all of us to exist... yet, we move through this life, as though under anesthesia, numb to the "God-reality" around us. Most people live day to day- working to finish a list of tasks that life brings, but never asking or seeking out the Big Picture.

Our existence has meaning and purpose. C.S. Lewis also wrote: "It is only when you are asked to believe in Reason coming from non-reason that you must cry Halt. Human minds. They do not come from nowhere." Do you believe that or not? Does our consciousness, our self-awareness, our ability to love.... does it all come from nowhere? Like a lunatic in a cell, we might be tempted to scribble darkness and pretend that the light doesn't exist. The fact that we spend most of our lives ignoring the reality of God doesn't change God, rather, it changes us.

But God is. Do you believe that? Or, do you pretend that the good things of life- love, laughter, joy, peace, time with family, meaning, purpose.... do you pretend that those wonderful things somehow non-sensically have come about in this universe by accident? Or, even worse, do you say that you believe in God, but do not live in a way that shows any evidence of it?

Have you answered the "why" when it comes to your life?

One last quote from Lewis: "God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing."

Monday, October 16, 2006


This weekend one of our Iraqi interpreters was killed in action. We have Iraqis who work with us as interpreters, and every day they put their lives on their line for their nation, and for our Soldiers. While the interpreters are not Soldiers, we consider them members of the team, and the Soldiers who work closely with them take it hard, at times, when we lose one.

I didn't know this particular interpreter. However, I was at our aid station as he died, and went out and spoke with his brother, who also works here. It was a terrible situation, and we mourn his loss, but we also honor the work and sacrifice these men are doing for their country, in hopes of making Iraq a better place.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Real time weather

While people back home are getting off of lunch break, and seeing snow, we're getting a sand storm as I write this- lightning, thunder, rain, wind, and... sand. Man, I was outside taking pictures of the storm when all of a sudden there was a gust of wind and everything was just... sand and dust. Same thing inside the building. The chronology of the photos goes from the bottom (first) to the top (last).


I know you can't really see it in these pictures- they're not zoomed in- but these are soccer fields with kids playing organized soccer. I kind of did a double take when we drove by; it looked SO much like the families gathered around soccer fields back home. Well, with lots more sand and trash than back home. And a little warmer.

But they're the future of Iraq. If Iraq is going to have a safe, peaceful and prosperous future, it will be because the kids receive an education, learn to live with people who are different and have the freedom to grow.

I think about that responsibility that we Americans have since we invaded Iraq. No matter what people think about the war, we are responsible for Iraq now. The future here is dependent upon the people of Iraq- there is no doubt about that. But we have a responsibility, a moral obligation, to take care of what we have started here. We have begun to lay down the foundations of a safe and free nation, by building schools, sewer systems, training police, helping to hold elections and so on. But there are people from places like Iran that will do anything to ensure that doesn't happen. (where do you think the rockets being shot at us are from?)

Iraq has a very challenging road ahead of it. It looks like the best political solution might be to federalize Iraq- making a few different semi-autonomous regions- with a federal government to coordinate defense, oil profit distribution and the like. But along with the political and military solutions will be the attempt to educate a new generation of Iraqis. I think about that when we drive by kids who wave at our humvees- how do they perceive us, and how can we help them to grow up differently than the previous generations?

In some ways, the nation of Iraq is a lot like children who have grown up in abusive homes. This nation has been brutalized, and they have lived under oppression long enough that it is no surprise that it will take some time to learn democracy and problem solving in a new way. We can't really expect them to become westernized overnight. But we can help lay the foundation.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Around Baghdad

These are a couple of pictures from an Iraqi Police Station in Baghdad. I went out on a convoy with our Commander to visit wounded Soldiers, as well as visit this Iraqi Police Station and another one of our own units.

The Police station we visited is located in one of Uday Hussein's former palaces. We went and met with these police, and then walked around the grounds for a bit. The top photo is on the way into the Police Station.

The bottom photo is on an interesting structure. On Hussein's former property, there are some sculptures, as well as a replica of the 14th of July Bridge. In the bottom photo, our Commander and I are standing on that bridge. I am the one on the left in the picture.

The visit to the CSH (Combat Surgical Hospital) is becoming too familiar. Something interesting happened there, though, today. I visited our wounded Soldier, with the Commander and the Soldier's company commander. At the end of the visit, I stayed and prayed with the Soldier. After praying, my assistant and I turned around to leave the room, and there was a Three Star General and his entourage standing in the doorway, waiting to enter after the prayer was finished. The General greeted us, and thanked us for our ministry, and began to ask us how things were going. After talking for just a bit, he gave us both his coin.

The giving of coins is a military tradition. High ranking Soldiers (commanders, command sergeant majors) usually have a coin designed for their office, and give it to Soldiers as a sign of a job well done. While I didn't do anything, it was neat to get the coin.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Counseling as a chaplain

Well, here is my home. I don't think I've posted this picture before, but this is the barrack in which I am staying. It is a former Iraqi Army barrack, and it really isn't too bad. I bought a piece of carpet for my floor, so it's starting to even feel a little homey. Kind of like a run down college dorm. But, it's MY kind-of-run-down-almost-a-college-dorm-room. Well, it is for now.

On another note, I want to mention some things about counseling. This is a huge part of my job, and it seems to go in waves; I'll have a ton of people coming in for counseling for a few days, and then nobody for a few days etc.

So what is the biggest issue I counsel Soldiers about? Marriage, without question. This is huge, and I spend a lot of time on it.

There are some reasons why. First of all, the separation strains marriages. But for a good marriage, the separation is not that big of a deal in the long run. The bigger issue is that when a Soldier deploys, the distance brings out the true nature of your marriage. In good marriages the spouses tend to appreciate each other more, while suffering from being apart. On the other hand, the distance will also highlight the deficiencies in weak marriages; for example, if a couple couldn't communicate respectfully and lovingly before the deployment, that weakness is magnified during the separation. So, the separation can either highlight strengths or weaknesses in a marriage.

The second issue is the age of many of our Soldiers. I need to take a second to honor this: I could not have been deployed and done the work so many of our Soldiers are doing when I was 20 years old. I just couldn't. They are asked to take on a maturity that is a great leap for many people fresh out of high school. But they do it, and most of them really do a great job.

However, this instant maturity seems to cause a lot of Soldiers to get married sooner. That's just my anecdotal take; I don't have stats to back it up. But you get a guy who is a fresh high school grad, has a steady job, health insurance, and respect, and many of them end up getting married sooner than they might otherwise. Added to this is the fact that many military installations have women in the area that are keen to take advantage of young Soldiers, and marry them for less than honorable reasons.

So, between the separation, the age of many of our Soldiers, and the sometimes questionable motives for getting married, there is a quite a bit of marital stress.

The Army does a great job of trying to help. It offers free marriage retreats when Soldiers get home, it is very good about organizing family readiness groups during deployment, and so on. But ultimately the decisions about having a good marriage are up to the Soldier and his or her spouse.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Top Ten List

Living conditions for us over here really are pretty decent, but today I've compiled a short list of the top ten things I miss from back at home. These are in no particular order, and they do not include my family and church, both of which are obvious! So, here they are:

-Driving a car
-Pepperoni Pizza (the brand doesn't matter at this point!)
-Knowing I can sleep through the night (and get 8 full hours of sleep)
-Watching Badgers and Vikings football on Saturday and Sunday afternoons
-Going to Iowa Stars hockey games
-My wife's cooking
-TV (sad but true...Battlestar Galactica and Lost especially)
-Wearing clothes that aren't camoflauge
-No rockets and mortars- which are both bad
-The change of seasons

That's not it, but I said 10, so I'll stop there.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Garden of Eden

The picture above is the Tigris River, south of Baghdad. I took both of these pictures from a helicopter (as is the case with many of my pictures).
A couple of things to comment on this morning:

First, the "Green Zone" is an area in Baghdad which is very safe, and houses government buildings, monuments, some American bases, parks, etc. It is in downtown Baghdad, and it is the area mentioned every time a news report talks about a VIP visiting. In other words, this place isn't a secret- it's the centerpiece of Baghdad. We sent Soldiers here for four day passes, or, in my case, we are here for a training conference. The picture directly above this is the "14th of July Bridge" heading into the Green Zone... commemorating the Iraqi "victory" over Iran in the 1980s war. (most people think it was really a tie)

The second thing I'm thinking about is the Garden of Eden. The Bible says it was located here, in what we call Iraq. Admittedly, I've always wondered about that, because the Garden was so lush, and Iraq is, well, a desert. But after being here, I can see it better. Along the rivers, Iraq is actually a very lush and beautiful place. Years of dictatorship have destroyed the environment and the economy, but this isn't as bad a place, climate-wise, as some make it out to me. Granted, it's 120+degrees in the summer (in some parts of Iraq). But having come here in August, 120 here felt better than 95 in Mississippi. In the area of the Tigris River, there are all kinds of trees, grass, and so on. It is beautiful where I am at right now, even if it's just a small slice of Iraq. I can see why God would choose to put Adam and Eve in a place like this (well, not like it is now, but you see the point)

The United States is spenting vast amounts of money on public works projects- schools, sewer systems, and so on. My prayer is that if we can help better the life for the Iraqis, this could be a safe and peaceful place in years to come. But it's different than rebuilding Germany or Japan, because Iraq was so poor before the war, while Germany and Japan were both highly educated and each had a great industrial base. Hence, it will take longer here. But it can be done.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Pictures from the Green Zone

I'm up in the Green Zone for some training. These pictures are taken from the "Hands of Victory" monument in Baghdad. This monument was built by Saddam to commemorate the "victory" over Iran in the Iran-Iraq war. The hands each hold swords which cross, and the height is about 140 feet. As you can see from the pictures above, it is possible to climb up through one of the hands and look out. I went up there with an Iraqi "tour guide" who told me he wants to move to the United States and work at Best Buy. The climb up inside was actually a little difficult, as I was barely able to fit through a couple of the spaces. I also thought it would be quite ironic if I had fallen off one of the platforms inside and been hurt.

There are two sets of these hands, on each end of a large parade ground.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Pictures from the air

Here are a couple more pictures from my trip yesterday (see post below). As you can see in the second picture, the Baghdad area does have vegetation, and water- this is a canal leading into the Tigris River at some point.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Visiting Soldiers

Today I went out to visit some of my Soldiers at an Iraqi Army Base. We have MiTT teams which are tasked with training Iraqi Soldiers, and I was visiting some of our Soldiers on one of those teams.

A typical visit includes a worship service of course, but also just spending time with Soldiers and being available to talk, if they need.

I enjoy traveling by helicopter. I know I've said it before in other posts, but no matter how much I fly, there is something amazing about looking at Baghdad from the air, but flying low enough to really be able to see things. I've a picture of me standing with the Sadr City area of Baghdad in the background.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Minnesota Twins

Today's post will take a break from the war in Iraq, and is dedicated to the Minnesota Twins, the 2006 American League Central Division Champions. The Twins overcame great odds, and went from being down 12 games to winning the division. I think the Twins have an excellent chance to win the World Series this year.

In addition, Twins catcher Joe Mauer (a Minnesota native), became the first ever catcher to win the American League Batting Title.