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! :)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Tough time in Iraq

Many of you have heard the news that it has been a tough few days here in Iraq. Lots of Shia Muslims were killed in Sadr City, and they retaliated with some horribly brutal stuff toward the Sunnis. In addition, we have seen stuff come our way as well. We just got off of commo blackout, which was tough for Soldiers on Thanksgiving. (we are put on commo blackout- meaning we can't call home or use the Internet, whenever a Soldier is killed on our base) I also grieve deeply for families that lost Soldiers on Thanksgiving. It is never easy, I know, to lose a loved one, but how much worse on a day like Thanksgiving.

I am thankful to see my current Soldiers on their way out, and prepare for yet a new mission here.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving. I have received a bunch of emails, and with limited Internet time right now, I just want to thank everyone who wrote me, and I pray for God to bless you during this holiday.

Now, a few things I am thankful for:

-My family
-A warm shower this morning
-The Badgers football team is 11-1 and beat the Gophers and Hawkeyes this year, the hockey team is the defending National Champs, and the basketball team is undefeated and ranked 7 in the polls.
-My Soldiers are leaving to go home, with a job well done
-That next year I will be celebrating Thanksgiving with my family in Minnesota
-My nation, which is the best place on earth
-The love and grace of God, which is why I'm here in Iraq

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Today is the 43rd anniversary of a very famous person: C.S. Lewis. He has the distinction of dying on the same day as two other guys, Aldous Huxley and John F. Kennedy.

That's my useless fact for the day.

Anyway, I am in the process of moving- soon, but I can't say when- to a new base. During this time I might not be able to blog as much. I'll see. But if for the next week or two, there aren't many posts, that's why.

I'm sad to se my Soldiers leaving, but now I'm off to different endevours with new Soldiers. It will remain interesting, I'm sure.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

So the prayers are working?

This morning I woke up, and for some reason my air conditioner wasn't working, and the room smelled a little odd. Of course, Rustamiyah always smells like a strange mix of sewage, sulfur and gunpowder, so I didn't think too much of it.

After starting my day, showering, etc., I went back to my room, and just happened to look at this outlet. It had caught on fire last night. You can see the cord running to the right- that goes to the air conditioner. This is unbelievable- it caught on fire while I was sleeping, and I didn't know it. (I guess it means I'm sleeping well)

Moreover, this box is six inches from me while I sleep. It is right next to the bed, and about six inches above me. My "comforter" I sleep under is a Army camophlauge colored poncho liner, which is Nylon and Polyester. My "comforter" is sometimes right up against this outlet. The fact that I didn't wake up on fire is a minor miracle.

So, for those of you praying for me, keep them coming. How ironic it would be to die in this country not from a rocket or mortar, but from an.... electrical fire??

Thursday, November 16, 2006

With NATO Soldiers

Tonight I went to a BBQ with some Soldiers from NATO. While there we ate food that the Italian Soldiers prepared (it was their turn). It was awesome; I haven't had stuff that good in a while. While you may not hear it from the media, there are a number of nations with small contingents of Soldiers in Iraq, including Denmark, Holland, Italy, Slovenia, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Estonia, El Salvador, Japan, and others (in addition to the large numbers from the US and Great Britain). The Soldiers at this particular BBQ were all from NATO nations.

Most of the time I hung out with the Danish Soldiers- I was able to speak some Swedish with them, which is close enough to Danish to be able to understood. Of course, they all spoke perfect English.

It was a blast. I'm enjoying meeting so many different people. In the picture above I am with Soldiers from Slovenia and Denmark, respectively. As you can see, they brought civilian clothes in addition to their uniforms.

I also learned something interesting: Denmark has about 10% of its whole Army currently deployed to Iraq. They are a small nation, but that is a huge commitment.

Setting Sun

It's hard to believe I've been in Iraq about 3 months now. I'm currently at FOB Rustamiyah, but will soon be going to another FOB. I can't be specific about the dates; however, this afternoon it hit me that I will actually be sad to leave this place.

Rustamiyah has a bad reputation in Baghdad- some say it is the most dangerous FOB in Baghdad right now. It's smelly, and it's in a bad part of town. But right now it's home. I have grown to love the people I'm serving alongside, as well as the local Iraqi vendors that I have met, and the variety of people from other countries.

Just this afternoon, I sat in my office with another chaplain and an Iraqi. The Iraqi man sat and jammed on a guitar, and sang a variety of songs, including some stuff he has written. At one point this Iraqi friend pointed out that we all- Iraqis and Americans- are just people, all humans with the same basic wants and needs. Yep, he's right.

I pray for God to bless both of our nations.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Return to Blogging

As many of you have noticed, I have taken a number of days off from blogging. First of all, I erased some of the entries, because someone had posted a comment attacking my posts, and then wondered why the comment was posted. IF you leave a comment, it will appear- it isn't a personal email to me. The only way to remove the comment was to erase the entire posts. So I did.

But I also haven't posted for a couple of other reasons. First, we've been on a communications blackout, which has since been lifted. Second, I wanted to think for a bit. Here is what is on my mind:

As Americans, we have the right to express opinions, and our military exists- and is willing to die- to preserve that right. As a Soldier in Iraq, I think I have earned the right to express my views on the war.

But this isn't academic for me; it is also personal. I love the people of Iraq. My heart breaks for them. Evil is real, and it is here, and people are suffering. I have met and gotten to know some of the people here, and they are humans just like we are in America.

What happens if we cut and run? The situation will get worse. Was it right to come here in the first place? I believe so. But even if it wasn't, it would be a great injustice to leave now.

Here is an analogy: Let's say you go in to do surgery on a person... say.... to fix a hernia. Somewhere in the midst of the operation you discover that much, much more is wrong, so you open up the abdomen and start working on the insides. At this point you can't just leave the patient sitting on the table with his guts hanging out. You need to finish the job, even if it costs you personally. Why? Because you started the operation.

Iraq has its guts hanging out. Is it hard work? You bet. I HATE seeing body bags come in, and I hate it when my Soldiers go outside the gate every day. But we started this, and we have men, women and children in Iraq who will suffer unspeakable horrors if we leave.

I've earned the right to say that. I respect anyone who disagrees, but I've got the right, whether I'm a pastor or a chaplain, to express it. I believe it so much that I've put myself in a place where people are trying to kill us. I wasn't drafted and I joined after the Iraq war started. I'm here as a volunteer.

Don't like it? Too bad. I'm still willing to die for you.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Around Baghdad in a tank

This is me sitting in the tank as we are moving on a patrol.
In this picture, I am standing in front of the tank we took out on patrol: a M-1A Abrams.
This is a common billboard in Baghdad. Translated, it means "Terrorism has no religion." The red letters are the part that says "Terrorism." The pink store below it is a smoothie shop.
This is a large portrait; the center, large picture is Modtada al-Sadr's father, who was killed by Saddam Hussein in the 1990s. Sadr City- previously called Saddam City- is named after this man. To the upper right, is a picture of Moqtada al-Sadr. I don't know who is in the upper left.
Here is a small amusement park we passed on the road. I think it is a Disney affiliated park, and not Universal Studios, though I may be wrong.

It was fascinating driving around Baghdad today. As a chaplain, my reason for being out on a patrol on occasion is two fold: first, it is a ministry of presence, so to speak, to have the chaplain along for the ride. Second, it is a way of experiencing what my Soldiers are experiencing, and showing them that we are all in harm's way. Going out like this is not something I do on a regular basis, by any means, however, and my primary role is taking care of Soldiers on the base, at least in this current environment.

The bottom line is that chaplains go where their Soldiers go. In other wars, where there were fronts, the chaplain might be at the front, alongside the Soldiers, ready to pray, or administer last rites, etc. Here, in this environment, it is much more ambiguous. My best ministry will most likely be on the FOB (Forward Operating Base), but it's important to be out and about as well.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

It's a good thing

There is an interesting article on regarding the Army monitoring the various blogs and websites being written by Soldiers. I think this is an important task. As much as I enjoy keeping a blog, I would hate to think that I would include information that would compromise operational security (OPSEC). Having a group to monitor the various blogs, and provide guidance, is a good thing which will help keep Soldiers secure. Click here to read the article.

Communication is completely different in this war than in past conflicts. Soldiers have the opportunity to communicate in an almost unchecked, instantaneous fashion. While it's nice for keeping in touch with loved ones, it can also compromise security of fellow Soldiers.

When I blog, some of the things I will not/cannot say include: information and times about Soldiers traveling, including routes they take; names of my family members; pictures that could compromise security here (for example, a picture of the front gate and the security there); information about operations; names of other Soldiers, and so on.

We have to assume that the enemy is reading blogs. Why? Because they are. We have to think carefully about what is written and ask: would it help a terrorist to harm US interests if they knew this information. If so, don't write it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I saw this picture online today- this is priceless. I don't know where this came from originally, but I saw it on a news site.

On a more serious note, these sorts of comments are not lost on Soldiers (no matter how dumb some politicians think we might be). Many laugh them off, or ignore them, but the constant drip of negativity about Iraq takes its toll on Soldiers.

Today has been a long day for me, in terms of counseling- about 12 hours this afternoon/evening. I am constantly amazed by our Soldiers- in terms of the job they are doing and how much stress and pressure they live with each day. There are some incredibly mature young men and women who are doing amazing work.

Most Soldiers I see for counseling are struggling with marriage issues and other relational sorts of things, but I also see some Soldiers affected by the negativity out there. No one minds the differing opinions on whether or not we should be in Iraq- after all, freedom is what we are fighting for. But the sorts of people who say things like "we're losing" or the ones who disparage our Soldiers- Kerry has accused our Soldiers of committing war crimes- are not very helpful.