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! :)

Sunday, December 31, 2006

A view from the air

Here are few pictures taken from the air as I flew to another base yesterday. The top picture is a view as the sun is beginning to set. The bottom one is a grove of Date Palm Trees, taken as the helicopter is taken a sharp turn and I am looking pretty much straight down.

I have to admit that flying in a helicopter is one of my favorite things to do. They really are amazing machines, and it offers an incredible view of the area, hoping from place to place.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

News from Baghdad

Well, as I woke up this morning, the news outlets are reporting that Saddam Hussein has been executed. I have mixed feelings about it. One cannot help but feel that justice has been done- inasmuch as a man who is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, as well as the tortures and disappearances of even more, has received his punishment. Saddam's effect on Iraq will extend for generations. While many media report that certain vital services were more efficient under Saddam (power, e.g.) what they fail to mention is the price that was paid. Certainly Saddam may have run the nation with a certain degree of efficiency, on a superficial level, but it created a culture of violence and corruption that continues to this day. Yet the problems his rule created in this society go much deeper. He created a culture of violence and fear. Much like abused children take years- even a lifetime- to recover mentally and emotionally- Iraq will take a long time to recover from the culture of fear and corruption that was created.

Yet as a Christian I never rejoice in a death- even of a hardened criminal dictator. My prayer is that somehow, in some way, Saddam might have come to know Christ in his last days. That might sound crazy to some, but that is the radical nature of grace. It is the Truth that God's grace is extended to all people. Whether or not Saddam ever heard or received this Truth is between God and him. His death was, I believe, just. But that doesn't bring joy. It simply reminds us that we live in a sinful world where evil exists. In this face of his death, we should turn all the more to Christ, recognizing our own brokeness and need for a Savior.

On a different note, one of the comments on my last post asked the question of what I believe will be the effect from Saddam's death. A lot of commentators are talking about this, debating it, and offering expert opinions. I'm not an "expert" by any means, but my personal opinion is that nothing will change. I don't say that in a negative or a positive sense. I simply don't think Saddam's death is highly relevant to the conflict at this point, and the issues at hand for Iraq will ultimately have to be solved by the Iraqis.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Muddy Merry Christmas!

Well, it's Christmas morning! It's strange to be in the land of Abraham's birthplace for Christmas. Around 3800 years ago God made the promise not just of land (Israel) to Abraham, but he also promised that all nations would be blessed through him- the promise of Christ.

In America we've come to associate Christmas with snow, and, truth be told I miss the snow right now. This time of year in Iraq it's cold- it's been in the upper 50s during the day, and in the 30s at night. It has also been raining- a lot- some days, and as a result, the fine, dusty sand has now turned into mud and sludge. My boots are caked with mud and it's hard to move around.

Christmas Eve last night was great. I preached at the 2000 (8pm) Service, which is now my normal service. I look forward to working with the service over the remainder of my tour.

Well, everyone have a Merry Christmas and God bless you!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Four Star Coin

So there I was, sitting in my office- and I happened to be the only one from the Unit Ministry Team in our area- when I heard a voice say "Hey Chaplain." I turned and saw a two star general- Major General Fils, the Commander of the 1st CAV Division, whom I had not previously met- walking into my office. However, right as he said "chaplain," around the corner came someone else, General Peter Schoomaker, the top General in the Army. The moment I heard the General's voice, I popped to my feet, but as I saw General Schoomaker, I was even more surprised. They then spoke to me for just a moment- asking where I was from, how long I had been in Iraq, etc. Gen. Schoomaker was making the rounds, and meeting people and giving out his coin. As he came around the corner, he extended his hand and gave me his coin, which was great. It is shaped like an ID tag, as you can see from the picture, and it was a nice surprise on the day before Christmas Eve. One thing that's interesting about being here is you never know who will stop by. A couple days before I got back, Bill O'Reilly was making the rounds, and earlier this week the Secretary of Defense was in the building (as everyone saw on TV). It remains interesting!

Friday, December 22, 2006

First Team

I've been getting settled in here at Camp Liberty. I flew back to Iraq last weekend, and arrived at my new "home" where I am working for the 1st Cavalry Division, also known as America's "First Team." The historic 1st CAV patch is to the left.

My work here is quite different than with the 3-67 Armored Battalion. There I was a battalion chaplain, assigned as the chaplain for a unit of around 900 Soldiers, providing for their spiritual care.

Now I am assigned to the Division Chaplain office. The division oversees all of the Soldiers in the Baghdad area and surrounding. I believe we have around 80,000 Soldiers under our care.

There is one division chaplain, and then his deputy, and I work with them. My specific role involves a number things: including working on the helicopter flights for our subordinate chaplains, preaching at a Sunday evening, contemporary worship service, visiting troops, sponsoring the Gospel service and other things.

I have two assistants working for me right now, and they do excellent work. This is a very different type of ministry than at the battalion level, but I am getting the hang out it.

My living conditions are quite different as well. While Camp Liberty is not exactly Iowa, it is a more secure and safer environment than at FOB Rustamiyah. Not that Liberty is without danger, but it's certainly different than at Rusty. These coming months should be interesting.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

An Article on Faith

There is an interesting article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today, on the faith of Soldiers in Iraq. Click here to read it.

In my experience, it is similar to my experience of Soldiers and their faith. Many Soldiers do not have the time to get involved in chapel service or a Bible Study (well, they say they don't, but I still always offer!). The reality is that the hours are long and hard in the combat zone. So many Soldiers express their faith in a much more private manner- reading the Bible, prayers on their own, etc.

This article illustrates that some Soldiers grow in their faith and others struggle, while in Iraq. It's interesting, of course, that the article was skewed toward Lutherans and Catholics, but that is typical of Minnesotan Soldiers (as well as Iowa, the Dakotas, etc.). My experience working with Soldiers is that the largest representations of Soldiers are Catholic, or some form of Baptist, but that's an unofficial guess-timate. The wonderful thing is that each base offers a variety of worship services, ranging from Roman Catholic, to liturgical Protestant, to contemporary Protestant, to Gospel services, and just about everything in between in the Christian spectrum. We also provide for the religious needs of Soldiers of all faiths; sometimes that means having an officially recognized lay leader provide a service, or, if one is not possible, flying in a chaplain from that faith group from time to time.

One last random observation, dealing with my last post: the title was Not War, But Reconstruction. I think about the title, and I should be careful: it IS a war. Obviously, people are being wounded and killed, and someone is shooting those rockets and mortars at us. But it is not a war in the same sense of which it was in the beginning phases of the war. It is a different type of war, a different type of combat. It is one of protecting the people trying to rebuild their country after years of oppression and neglect. The fact that it involves not just our folks, but the Iraqi people is what makes this, ultimately, their war to win now. We have won the war of liberation. Now, the will of the Iraqi people is paramount in the war of reconstruction and the war of defense of this new nation. Iraq IS at war. They are at war against Al Qaeda, against insurgents, and against the countries supplying them. As Americans concerned for a country to be free and safe, this war MUST continue to be our war as well.

This is difficult for Americans, I think, because we no longer fully grasp the reality of evil. Evil is more hidden and subtle in our country. Hence, when we are faced with a real threat, we find ourselves less able to grasp the nature of that evil. We want to relativize it, or blame it on not getting enough hugs as a kid, or something like that.

That brings this back, full circle for me, to the nature of faith. How has Iraq affected my faith? Here are two ways: one, it has convinced me that evil is real. I believe that before, but in sort of a theoretical way. Now I have experienced the effects of it. Second, it has focused my faith more on the need for Christians to love each other, and to love the world. Again, in this case I am not talking about some mushy "I'm ok, you're ok" sort of love, but on the abiding and deep "agape" type of love found in the Bible. Agape is the Greek word best meaning something like steadfast love. A love that goes beyond the superficial, and challenges us to true Christian love and fellowship. I think that is why so many of our churches are shrinking: we have forgotten how to love. Yet it is the most important command: Love God, and love your neighbor. We in churches love to talk a good talk, but so often our actions are superficial, or hide our true impulses to gossip or discourage each other. In Iraq, God has really been speaking to me about the need to be more Christ-like in my ability to love.

I'd encourage you all to read that article, and then think about how God has challenged your faith in times of trial or difficulty.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Not a war, but reconstruction

One of the things I've noticed about the coverage of the war in Iraq, back in the US, is the absolutely negative way in which everything connected to it is being portrayed. This includes the media, and members of both political parties. And it comes from people who lack a very basic knowledge of the region or its people. Read this article on CNN for an example. Now, I understand that not every American knows that Al Qaeda is a Sunni organization, but shouldn't the guy who will be heading up the House Intelligence Committee know this?? Seriously... and these politicians are the ones telling us we're "losing."

What bothers me is the way that members of both parties have, a) Turned the war political, and b) Begun to talk about winning or losing in ways that we cannot. Coming back to the States for a bit, and seeing the TV coverage blows me away. What's getting lost in the mix are the Iraqis.

Let me offer a different way of thinking about this: We won the war in Iraq. Yes, past tense: we won. You see, militarily, we invaded Iraq, defeated their Army, and captured their leadership. On this point, we had a crushing and overwhelming victory. No questions about it. We did what we said we were going to do: invaded the country and deposed Saddam (remember, right before the war started, we gave Saddam 48 hours to leave office), and we inforced the weapons inspections. That was the "war." We won that.

What is happening now is the reconstruction and reconstitution of Iraq. In other words: putting it back together. We helped the Iraqis democratically elect a government. Check. We have trained and Army and Police Force. Check. The problem is that the government and military of Iraq are not doing a good job. That is the point on which things are failing. We have to stop thinking about this phase as winning or losing a war.

Over the past two years, we had one political party (the Democrats) pretending that nothing was going right over there, and we had the other political party (the Republicans) pretending that everything was going right over there. (In other words, BOTH are to blame) In the meantime, the Iraqis get hurt by our own self-obsession.

Things are failing because we have been so self-focused that we have failed to stop and ask "what do we need to do to improve the situation?" We have sat and argued about pre-war intelligence, about whether we should call it a civil war or not, about whether the Iraq war is part of the greater war on terror or a separate war, etc. In the meantime, we seem to have forgotten about.... the Iraqis.

What I find interesting about the Iraq Study Group report- which works under the assumption that we're "losing"- is that the people who seem to object to the report the most are the Iraqis. The reason: I think they see that America is getting bored, and is getting ready to leave them in a precarious position. It's kind of like a mother having a baby, and wondering why the baby isn't full grown after three years, and deciding that the best option would be to send the baby off on his own.

I wonder if we have the virtuous resolve to complete our committments, even when they turn out to be more difficult than we first believed?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Smaller World

One of the odd things about flying to Texas for the funerals/memorial ceremonies has been the side effect of making the world seem much smaller.

When I first flew over to Iraq, it felt like I was leaving the planet- I remember watching on the TV/Computer monitor on our plane, which showed where the plane was at on the map, as we left the coast of North America. It felt so far away as I we went over the Atlantic. (I've flown overseas a number of times before that, but this time I knew I would be gone for a while)

Now, however, having flown back for the funerals and memorial ceremony, and knowing I'll be going back... well, the world just seems smaller. I don't mean that in a negative way (or a positive way, for that matter), but, it's just different.

Being in Baghdad seems like being in a different world- culturally and economically, it is. Yet, just a few hours on a plane (well, more than a few) and I'm back in the US. It reminds me that what is happening over there isn't so far removed from what happens in the US.

On the other hand- the difference in the quality of life simply cannot be expressed. It is amazing how wonderfully blessed we are in the United States.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Well, my deployment has found me in Texas, temporarily. Unfortunately, my unit lost two Soldiers last Sunday, right before they were due to leave the forward operating base. The Commander immediately sent up the request for me to come back to the US, on temporary duty (TDY) in order to minister to our Soldiers and be available for the memorial ceremony and funerals. So here I am, in Texas, temporarily. It is quite bizarre to be back in the states, even if just for a short time. It is hard to express how incredibly amazing and wonderful the US is when you compare to a place like Iraq. There is so much that I take for granted as an American.

It's been a tough week, though, because of the deaths. They were good Soldiers, who died making the roads safer for fellow Soldiers, and they are an honor to their families and country. I was hit hard, as were many people in our battalion, but we also recognize their incredible service and sacrifice, and are grateful to God for their lives.