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, January 30, 2007


One of the least understood events in history is a period of time popularly called the "Crusades," though this term is only about 150-200 years old. There is a lot of talk about this era, but not much information. Here is an interesting section from the book "The Great Divide," by Alvin Schmidt. It's a long quote, but those of you interested in history will find it interesting:

"The verb “crusade,” as Thomas F. Madden, a historian of the Crusades, has rightly noted, is a modern, not a medieval, word. The same is true with the noun “Crusades.” The latter is commonly used to refer to the European military expeditions in the Middle Ages that were launched in November of 1095 with a sermon by Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont (France) and ended in 1291 with the fall of Acre. Both the verb and noun are derived from the Latin crucesignati- “people known by the sign of the cross.”

For some time, the word “crusade” has been a highly negative term- both in the West and in the Middle East. The negative connotation of the word is currently being reinforced by many Muslims and by some of their defenders. They accuse the United States and Britain of being modern “Crusaders” in their response to the Islamist terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. There is a certain twisted logic in renewing the negative tone of the word Crusaders by applying it to the Americans and the British fighting terrorism, for it was not they who destroyed the lives of nearly 3,000 people on that tragic day. It was the militant Muslims.

Even before the events of September 11, many in the West have for some time had primarily a pejorative understanding of the medieval Crusades. They believe the Crusaders were evil because they fought the “peace-loving” Muslims in Palestine and neighboring areas in the Middle Ages. This has a lot to do with the fact that there is much about the Crusades of the Middle Ages that has not been told in history books and articles…..

Chapter 2 mentioned some of the many conquests and foreign wars (jihads) that the Arab Muslims engaged in, immediately following Muhammed’s death in 632. These Islamic jihads, it will be recalled, included invading Palestine in 633, Yarmouk in 636, Syria in 637, Jerusalem in 638, Egypt in 641, Persia in 642, the northern part of Africa in 643, and Spain in 711. Then another invasion took place, but it failed to gain a foothold in France in the Battle of Pointiers/Tours in 732.

Even after 732 the Islamic aggressions continued, spreading to other parts of Europe. Sicily was invaded in 827 and eventually conquered in 902. In 846 the Muslims entered the city of Rome, where they plundered the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul. In addition, there were intermittent attacks against Christians in Spain during the 10th and 11th centuries… in 1091 Muslims drove the Christian priests out of Jerusalem

It certainly gives one a different take on the motivations and driving forces behind the Crusades. The author (Schmidt) doesn't defend the Crusades, but he does try to help us understand the defensive nature of the Crusades, and he makes the case that the Crusades are an exception to the norm in Christianity- a conclusion with which I concur. I'm personally fascinated by studying history because I find that so much of what the popular culture understands about history is simply not accurate. The same is true of the Crusades. Anyone interested in this topic will find an interesting exploration of it in parts of Schmidt's book.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Another Great Sunday

We had a blast at worship last night. I can't tell you how much our Sunday evening service is the highlight of my week. I wrapped up a sermon series called "All Things New" focusing on the transformation God wants to work in our lives. Attendance has been up as well, which is wonderful to see.

I'm proud of the band leading worship. I, myself, am not musical- I can't sing to save my life. They, however, do an incredible job. Last night was another excellent time of worship, and I'm always on a spiritual high after the service.

I also have to add, for my Iowa friends, that yesterday was a double bonus because my Badgers beat the Hawkeyes, 57-46, to improve to 21-1. That doesn't compare with worship, but it's a nice bonus to cap the day! :)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Iranians?

I've watched with interest as the news media has reported the decision by President Bush to go after the Iranians operating in Iraq (see article). I find it amusing at one level, because the decision- which is a no-brainer- is being reported as some kind of stunning news.

Iranian operatives in Iraq? No kidding! Iran is one of the most oppressive and horrific regimes on the face of the earth. They have a lot at stake in Iraq, and having a western-style democracy crop up next door in not in their self-interest. Anyone who has followed the news knows that Iran has been helping the insurgency since the beginning; they have been reported, for example, to be manufacturing the advanced roadside bombs killing our Soldiers.

But we, as a nation, are not willing to admit what Iran is really all about. We're not willing to admit that this nation has been waging a cold war against us, and Israel, for 28 years. Beginning with the hostage crisis in 1979-1980, and continuing through various terrorists attacks, through the funding and training of Hezbollah against Israel, through the partnership with Syria against the United States, and now, as they openly develop nuclear weapons with North Korea, Iran has continued to prepare for an outright fight against us.

But we cannot bring ourselves to admit it. Americans are prone to a self-loathing that is almost comical. Certainly, we think, no one in this world can hate us without a good reason. We must have done something. We must be at fault... or maybe it's the President... or maybe, some other reason.

The Iranian issue, however, transcends all of that. They are led by a particularly repressive form of Islam that believes in the imminent return of someone they believe to be the "12th Imam" after Muhammed. The 12th Imam is a messianic figure who will wage warfare against the enemies of Islam. The President of Iran has stated this philosophy time and again, yet we're unwilling to face this reality.

Added to this are the constant threats against Israel AND the US. Iran IS developing nuclear power and their statements indicate a willingness to weaponize and use it.

Therefore, we need to view these news reports in a different light. No sane nation would allow the operatives of a hostile nation to operate on the battlefield. The fact that it's noteworthy news only indicates that most Americans haven't paid attention to the huge role Iran has attempted to play in Iraq since the beginning of the war. Leaders of both Iraq and the US have warning about the Iranian threat since day one, but some people have not been able to believe it.

Bottom line: I think it's a good step, but... it doesn't really represent anything new. It simply how we should operate. We have to protect our men and women.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Books I'm Reading

Here are a few of the non-fiction books I've read lately, or am reading:

-America Alone, by Mark Steyn. A must read for anyone interested in history/politics/religion. Steyn is a Canadian born journalist who looks at the declining birth dates in Europe, coupled with the growth of immigration from Islamic countries, and projects that a number of western European countries, including France, will have Islamic majorities (or near majorities) within 35 years. He looks at the effect this will have on world politics and promotes the necessity of a strong, stable and involved American democracy. I have passed this book onto a number of other Officers here, who have read it very quickly- it's a fascinating read.

-The Great Divide, by Alvin Schmidt. Schmidt compares and contrasts the development of the Islamic world and the democratic west, and looks at the influence of Jesus Christ versus the influence of Muhammed, and why the West has been more "successful" because of those differences. A good read for anyone interested in why some of the differences between the West and the Islamic world exist.

-Don't Tread on Me; a 400-year History of America at War, from Indian Fighting to Terrorist Hunting, by H.W. Crocker III. This is a books for history and military buffs. Lots of good stuff in there.

Since I've been here, I've tried to expand my reading selections. As a pastor, my reading lists typically consists of Christian authors, but it's been interesting to read a little more about Islam, history and some of the currents affecting Iraq. In addition, I've also started reading some fiction, which I don't normally do much. Disclaimer: I put links to the books on, not because I endorse it, or get any sort of commission, which I don't, but so people could see the books. :)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Sadness of Warfare

One the of greatest challenges of being in a combat zone is the ever-present reality of death. Whether it's someone in your unit, or someone 75 miles away, there is a corrosive nature to the constant reality of what humans can do to each other. The knowledge that not only is it possible for people to kill each other- but to know you are in a place where this is being sought every day- is a major thing for most Soldiers to work through, whether they are conscious of it or not.

That's why war can never be taken lightly by a Soldier. It is something that is entered into only when necessary, and with great hesitation. But once it has been embarked upon, once the road to war is traveled, it must be continued and war must be seen as the path to peace.

In other words, you can't sort of fight a war. Half way measures create more danger, more pain, and more suffering than anything else. That's my biggest concern about the current Iraq war. The reality is that this has been a very easy war for the United States. If you are not in the military, your life has not changed one single bit since the Iraq war has begun. There have been no rations, no air raids, no fears of the war coming home.

Hence, we fail to realize the necessity to actually win this thing. War is an abstraction for most... a good reason to vote (either for or against it), a reason to protest (either for or against) and a subject of conversation, but not much more than that. It isn't real to most.

And that is a good thing. We are blessed that this isn't World War 2, where people truly suffered on the home front. There is one negative aspect, though, and it is that we haven't been required to make the hard decisions. We have stood on the sidelines, critiquing our leaders (some of it deserved), but we've never really made the hard decisions.

What concerns me are three things:
1) That our Soldiers will have died in vain. Kind of like going halfway through birthing labor and then quiting.
2) That we will crush the futures of the people of Iraq by failing to see this through. Have the Iraqis failed to take responsibility for their nation? Yes, no doubt they have failed to some extent. But we didn't invade Great Britain. We invaded an oppressed and backward nation. Can we expect them to pick democracy up quicker than we did in the United States?
3) That we will pave the way for the destruction of Israel. If you watch the news, you know that the President of Iran has issued almost daily calls for the destruction of Israel, by nuclear means. He has Nuclear power plants going up, and the media are now reporting that North Korea is helping them along. We're ignoring him and whistling pass the cemetery.

My prayer is that peace will take root in Iraq. It's not too late. I have said, and believe, that only the peace of Christ will be permanent. Iraq needs that. But it also needs some old fashioned, not-shooting-but-living-together kind of peace as well. I ask that God would give this land rest from war, and that the people who hate each other could find a way to live in peace.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Some good news from Iraq

Tonight during worship, I asked for prayer requests. One of the people who attends my service is an Iraqi woman. She got up, and said she wanted to praise God for what He's doing in Iraq. In her home town, which I won't mention by name, she said a new church had opened up. She also shared some stories of Iraqis she knew coming to Christ- in different towns, which I won't mention- but, the power of her testimony was amazing. What a cool, incredible blessing it was to have an Iraqi woman testifying to the power of God at work in Iraq. As I've said before, this is the only thing which will ultimately make any kind of difference- long term difference- in this part of the world. (or, any part of the world, for that matter)

I left worship on a high note because of that... I just think of people coming to Christ in the midst of persecution, and what that might mean for Iraq. I think it's important to share some good news sometimes, with all the bad news that is going back to the states!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The decison making process

Here is an excellent article ( looking at the decision making process for President Bush, with regard to his decision to increase the number of troops in Iraq. Whether one agrees with the increase or not, it is a transparent look at what went into the decision. I personally appreciate leadership that is willing to make the tough decision, especially when others do not agree.

I cannot say whether or not this troop increase is the right thing, or whether it will work out or not- that's for others to hash out. But I pray for all of our troops that they will be safe, and that our work will go toward securing this nation. From my post last night, Larry made a very good reference to Hagar and Ishmael... he is right on. Ultimately, true peace comes through faith in Christ, and not through the military. What we can hope for is that our military can set the stage, by setting up a safe and secure nation. The spiritual issues are in the hands of God, and we as Christians need to be faithful and consistent in our witness to our faith.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Various thoughts

Tonight I was walking around the base, just as the sun was setting. There were stars in the sky, and some light clouds. As I walked, I began to think about where I was. Just about 50 or 60 miles to the east is Iran. To the west, where the sun was setting, is Syria and Jordan. As I looked up at the stars I realized that you could see those same stars back at home. Along with that, the clouds are made up of the same water as around the planet. After raining and evaporating a number of times over, some of that water had probably been to North America and back. It occured to me how close I am to home, in a geographic sense, but how far away it is in any other sense.

It's just different here. Some days I think about the curse God laid on the land here at the time of Adam. Then I think about the destruction of the city of Babylon, never to rise again. It all happened here, and you can almost feel the effects. I can't quite describe it.

There are days I just think "Why can't these people get their act together?" It's bizarre if you think about it: the most powerful and wealthy nation in the world- the US- shows up on the doorstep and offers Iraq a lottery type of deal. We offer to rebuild their nation, restore its infrastructure, liberate the people, build new schools, and so much more. What makes them incapable of not killing each other? How is Iraq different from South Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy, or the whole host of other nations which have been liberated from totalitarian regimes?

Is it the curse? Is there something here that remains from that curse? I don't know. There is a strange mix of brutality and fear that pervades the region. I know we Americans have made mistakes, yet...mistakes are always made in war. It seems to be deeper than that. Maybe our greatest mistake has been our optimism. Maybe we failed to see the depth to which sin and oppression can take root? Is it possible that in our optimism we failed to exert the desire to see this thing through? I don't know. I'm not back in the states, but everything I read seems to indicate that our people have given up and forgotten. Ambivalence bordering on hostility, really, is the overriding impression I get.

What I do know is the people here need help. They need Jesus more than anything. While we cannot come in and impose Christ on this land, we can offer hope and a new way of living that might open the door. I don't know that I have the answers, but I will keep asking the questions as long as I'm here.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Interesting Article

Ok, this has nothing to do with deployment, but here is an interesting link to an article online:

It is written by a meteorologist, and has to do with global warming, something about which I know very little. Anyway, some of you might find it interesting. It's quite short.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Sunday Evenings

Sunday evenings are the highlight of my week. This is when I lead worship/preach. My service is the Sunday evening Protestant service, and it's a blast. The band we have continues to grow: we have singers, a guitarist, bass guitarist, saxaphone, flute, drums and keyboard. The music is everything we sing at LCC (i.e., contemporary Christian music), which makes me feel at home. The irony is that half the band is from Minnesota, with another person from Iowa. What are the odds of that? No wonder they're sounding so good!

Right now I'm in the midst of preaching a sermon series called "All Things New," and we're looking at the various ways in which God desires to transform us. Two weeks ago, we looked at how God desires to transform us into knowing Him more. This last weekend, we studied how God calls us to love others. and shows us the way to do so. This coming Sunday, we will explore what it means to be holy. The sermon series has gone well so far, and I can't express how much I enjoy heading over to the chapel for it every Sunday.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Quote of the Day

General George Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this:

"I think one of the reasons you keep hearing about Iran is because we keep finding their stuff in Iraq."

He is right on.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Hard to Believe

Somewhat lost in the news about the "new" strategy in Iraq is an item that will sharply affect the National Guard and Reserve. It is a change to the policy which limits mobilization to 24 months total for members of the Guard and Reserve.

Here is the change:
-Before this, a member of the National Guard or Reserve could "only" be mobilized for a total of 24 months to serve in the war. Soldiers could volunteer to go longer than that, but they could not be mobilized involuntarily.

-NOW, the new policy has removed that restriction. Now, the policy says that no Reservist or member of the Guard can be mobilized for more than 24 months at a time. But... there is no limit to the number of times those 24 months of mobilization can happen.

In my opinion this is a foolish and dangerous move. The government has now taken the Guard and Reserve and essentially turned them into active duty Soldiers. Here is a comment taken from an article on

"David Chu, the Pentagon's chief of personnel, said in an interview that he thinks Guard and Reserve members will be cheered by the decision to limit future mobilizations to 12 months. The fact that some with previous Iraq experience will end up spending more than 24 months on active duty is "no big deal," Chu said, because it has been "implicitly understood" by most that they eventually would go beyond 24 months."

So... let me get this right... we should be "cheered" by "limiting" future mobilizations to 12 months? Only a year now? Wait a second... I'm "only" spending a year here as it is. Now, the only difference is that they can call me right back here. Hmm.... I'm jumping for joy and doing cart-wheels. Please, help me contain my joy.

In addition, he says it is "implicitly understood" that we'd eventually "go beyond 24 months." Wrong. That is just not true. Speaking as a Reservist, it's not true. The reality is that the 24 month limit was something that we all knew and cherished. I cannot tell you how many of us, in the Reserve, have had conversations about the 24 months; it makes you feel like the Army is guarding your ability to maintain a job, and giving you some sense of what your commitment will entail. Now it's gone.

This is wrong. If this many more troops are going to be needed, then the Army needs to expand its overall size, and expand it greatly. If the planned expansion isn't enough, then increase it more. If America supports its troops, it needs to show it by spending the money to hire more Soldiers, rather than turning Reservists into Active Duty Soldiers and pretending we'll appreciate it. Wrong way to go.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Weather in the Desert

I went out this morning to go for a run. I lifted yesterday in the gym, but I haven't been running outside. I went out to run around 6:15am, and it was cold and dark. Too cold for a run. The temperature was probably around 30 degrees, and I thought, "well, it gets colder than this in Iowa and Minnesota." On the other hand, I don't normally run outside in that weather. So I stayed in.

Yep, I'm probably not as committed to running outside as I should be, but it will start to warm up in about a month. I'll stay on the treadmills until then.

A lot of people think that since this is a desert climate, that it must be warm here in the winter, but I've found that is not quite true. During the day it's been in the 40s and 50s, though I think it's been a little colder than normal this winter. At night it gets into the lower 30s and upper 20s. Granted, that is warmer than back home in the Midwest, but it's certainly not Florida or California. (there is no Disneyland here either; we need to find bad guys in places that are nicer to visit)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Pictures and Question on Chaplain Duties

Here are some random photos from this week. The first picture is the mascot for the 1st CAV Division. His name is Trigger; he has traveled with the 1st CAV Division on deployments and other trips since 1989. He is a nod back to the history of 1st CAV as a Cavalry Division, of horse mounted Soldiers.
The second picture is of me with some visitors on New Year's Eve. The guy in the middle is Jim McMahon, a former Minnesota Vikings QB. The guy on the right is Kevin Butler, a former kicker for the Chicago Bears. The woman on the right is on a TV show. I forget her name. I think she is on JAG. I think the name might be Turner.
On another note: in my comments section I had someone ask about what her husband, a new chaplain, might expect in terms of duties, danger, etc., on his upcoming deployment to Ramadi. I would like to answer that question via email, rather than completely online, just for security and privacy reasons. So, send me your email address in the comments section. I will block the comment from posting. Blogger has updated it's system, and it's easy for me to block comments, so your address isn't public. Then I can email you and answer some of your questions.
This speaks again to the issue of Operational Security. The blogs Soldiers write are constantly read by all sorts of people. We have to be careful not to give out information that could be helpful to an enemy combatant, or even to the safety of family and friends back home. That's why I don't talk about my family's names, or the town we live in, etc. Just mostly common sense stuff.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Capital One Bowl Champs Again!

This morning's blog is dedicated to the Wisconsin Badgers, who beat Arkansas 17-14 for their second straight Capital One Bowl Championship. The Badgers proved their #6 national ranking was well deserved, and should end up finishing in the top 5 once the polls are complete. The Badgers finished 12-1, and will be one of a few teams to win 12 games this year!

This is a great time for UW sports: the basketball team is 14-1 and #4 in the nation, the hockey team is the defending National Champions, and now our football team finishes with 12 wins. For Iowa fans keep score, that means we won twice as many games thsi year as the Hawkeyes. :)

I was able to watch the game last night... just had to stay up a little late. That was a nice treat. Last year I was watching the game in person with my five year old son, and maybe next year we'll watch another game together. Maybe the Badgers will play in the Orange Bowl next year?!