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! :)

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A little jealous...

This is not a picture of Iraq, unfortunately. It is of trees with snow in Minnesota, where they are going to get yet another foot of snow today. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I kind of miss the snow there. Kind of.

I can't complain too much, because it's been beautiful here... in the 70s lately. Great weather in which to do PT. The hot weather will be coming, but it has been pleasant most of the 6+ months I've been here.

Still a little snow wouldn't be so bad!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Brits in the South

The other day I was walking past the DFAC (Dining Facility) and became enthralled in watching a British helicopter flying overhead. I have to admit, that no matter how many helicopters I see a day (many), or how often I fly in one, I still remain fascinated by them.

As I watched the chopper fly overhead, with doors open, one of the Brits cast a friendly wave our way. I've thought about what great allies we have in the British, as well as the Australians. (in fact, there are troops from many different nations here, but you won't hear that on the mainstream media).

Hence, it disappoints me to hear about the way people are reacting to the British pulling troops out of the southern part of Iraq. The media has played this off as a negative thing. Yet... aren't the American people wanting us to leave as soon as security is stabilized? Seems like sort of a no win situation with the media. They (the media) demand a pull-out as soon as possible, but spin it as negative when we're able to turn areas over.

The reality is that, though far from perfect, the situation in the south, like the far north, is much better than Baghdad. The British have lost about 170 Soldiers down there, over 3+ years. While their contingent is smaller, it is still a far smaller number of casualties in comparison to the situation in Baghdad. The truth is that the situation in the south is stable enough for the Iraqis to take over. Folks, this is good news.

Moreover, the Brits aren't quitting. They're actually sending more troops to Afghanistan, in anticipation of an expected spring offensive by the Taliban. It's good to have allies like them. You have to love any nation which gives us TV programming such as "The Office," and "Trigger Happy TV," authors like C.S Lewis, and is willing to stand by us in one of the great fights of the 21st century.

One last aside: I read that Sen. Joe Lieberman was reading the book America Alone, by Mark Steyn, a book I recommended a while back. I wish every US Representative and Senator would read this book. Again, I recommend it to anyone seeking a better understanding of what we are facing in this global struggle against terror.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Some good links

Here are a couple good articles to read for an alternative view to the situation here in Iraq:

"Shhh... the surge is working"

Comments from a chaplain (Colonel) touring Iraq and Afghanistan:

Now, this is not to suggest that all is perfect here, but to point out that there seems to be an obsession with the negative in the US that doesn't quite match the reality on the ground here. This IS a war and that means terrible things are happening; but this situation is not intractable and not beyond resolution by the US and Iraq. The divisiveness of the media is, I believe, harming our nation. It is skewing the perspective of a population that is by and large bored and annoyed at the reality of what it takes to win a campaign of this sort.

Here is a different, fun kind of link:
A pictorial view of the various empires in the Middle East:

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Dichotomy

How does it affect me if Americans don’t support the war?

I asked myself that last night. You see, as I write this blog, I think that sometimes my comments come across as more “political” than they are intended. You see, at some level, it’s hard not to believe in what we’re doing over here- it would make things much more stressful if I didn’t. And yet we’re in a time when very few Americans believe in what we’re doing over here. Thus, it creates a bit of a mental hurdle to overcome.

As an example, think about your job or schooling: let’s say you enjoy your job. It’s stressful, but you believe it’s making a difference. You’re proud to be a part of the company. But you see that polling conducted by a consumer firm shows that most people think your product is useless, or even possibly unethical. You would begin to have a bit of a mental split inside your own head, trying to reconcile something you know, with the opinions of others about the same thing, though those opinions might be at a variance. You see your business from the inside, and you see it in ways that others do not.

I think this is the dilemma for many Soldiers. It is for me, to be frank. Don’t misunderstand: my job, as a chaplain, can be effective even if I personally don’t support the war. I am called to nourish the living, care for the wounded, and honor the dead. I can do that regardless of what I think about the politics behind the war. Yet, I also happen to think the war is the right thing to be doing. That doesn’t make my job worthwhile, but it certainly makes it more worthwhile. I hope that makes sense. It would be much more difficult to do my job if I thought what we were doing was wrong, or evil.

Yet, this is what the public projects on us. If you say the war in immoral, and that we came for the wrong reasons, and that we’re doing the wrong thing, you have to understand that it will affect those actually conducting the war! (and I don’t say that to change the opinions of those against the war; I say it to explain some of the stress some of the forms the debate causes Soldiers)

I don’t offer any of this as a solution or even to suggest a solution. I just know that I’m a former news junkie who has by and large stopped watching the news. There is too much of a disconnect between what I see/hear here, and what I see reported on the news. And what is being reported has captured the hearts and minds of the nation, and we can’t contend with that.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Dinner with a Congressman

Last night I had dinner with a newly elected Congressman from Iowa, Rep. David Loebsack (D-Iowa). Members of Congress come here on a regular basis, and the Division tries to get them face to face time with Soldiers from their state. There were four of us from Iowa with Rep. Loebsack, though I am the only one actually living in Iowa (well, Iraq right now, but you get the idea... the other three were active duty and not in the Reserve or Guard).

Rep. Loebsack was friendly, and seemed genuinely interested in what we did, and what we were experiencing. He asked us what we thought of the surge, and admitted that he had voted against it, and asked for our honest opinions. While I don't think he was going to change his mind simply by what we said, I thought that he was sincere and truly wanted to know what we thought. I told him that as a chaplain, I wasn't the best one at the table to talk about the tactical issues, but I expressed my belief that since we're here, we have an obligation to make sure we don't leave this place in a chaotic state. I expressed my opinions about our moral obligation to Iraq, as I have done on this blog in the past, and he seemed to listen and even offered some of his opinions; he seems like a good guy. (note: this post should not be read as an endorsement either for or against Rep. Loebsack, as it is neither)

This afternoon, I had time to go for a run. I normall run the large man made hill here, which has concentric running paths around it, going up, but today I ran along the two lakes between here and Camp Victory, which is adjacent to Liberty. I ran over to Al Faw Palace and back... about a 4 mile run, with the various paths I took.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Wisconsin is #1.. no, literally!

Well, I just got online this morning, and saw that my alma mater, the Wisconsin Badgers, have jumped to #1 in the AP Poll for Men's Basketball. It doesn't really matter if we're number 1 right now... it's who is number 1 in the last poll that matters. And, we DO have to go on the road to face the #2 team in the nation, Ohio State, on Sunday. We beat them at home earlier this year, but it will be tough to do it again on the road.
Still, it's better than a kick in the shin! On Wisconsin!!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Different Sights, Juxtaposed

Earlier today, I was standing outside the building in which I work, talking on my cell phone to my son, and I saw Fox Report Geraldo Rivera in the parking lot. After finishing the conversation, I went over and got a picture with Geraldo. It's interesting the different people and sights you see over here.

This evening, while walking home, around midnight, I saw what looked like flares overhead. I assumed they were coming from a helicopter, but I then heard the roar of a jet engine, and saw a a jet streaking across, just overhead. I couldn't tell what it was... whether a fighter like an F-16, or something larger like a B-1. But there was a certain beauty as it turned and streaked past, with part of the underbelly lit up by the flares. I don't know what it was doing, and, well, wouldn't say if I did, but it was an interesting sight to end the day.

One last thing. In my post from yesterday, someone asked "how do we win the war." I wrote up some thoughts, but I'm going to wait to post them. I want to be careful how I word it. As an Officer, I cannot promote political causes online (and may have tread on thin ice a few days ago by highlighting the plights of Iraqis), so I need to think about how I word it. I didn't promote either political party in my response, but I want to still be careful how it is worded. But essentially here are my points: 1) Prepare to have troops here for a long time- show we have fortitude to see it out, 2) Use the tactics we have just begun to use with this troop surge, 3) Spend money to build infrastructure and the economy in Iraq as we did in Europe after World War 2, 4) De-politicize the war, and finally, understand that we have a moral obligation to see this thing through. We may all disagree about why we came here, but we're here, and it won't work to simply leave.

View of Liberty

Here are some pictures from Camp Liberty. They are taken from a hill on the base, which was made from soil removed to make the artificial lakes you see in the pictures. This area surrounds the Baghdad airport, and used to house Saddam's own private game reserve, where he would hunt. There are a number of palaces, as well as various homes for his henchmen.

Also, I want to include a link to a good article relating to the question of how long we can "sustain" the current number of troops in Iraq. There are many rumors floating around that the Army cannot sustain this type of rotation, and so on, but much of it is misinformation. Click Here.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

My Non-Binding Questions

In the spirit of the non-binding resolution being debated in Congress, here are my additions:

When will Congress demand we remove our troops from Kosovo, which have been there for around 10 years?

When will Congress demand we remove troops from Turkey? They have been there since the Gulf War in the early 1990s.

When will Congress demand we remove troops from South Korea? They have been there since the early 1950s. President Truman assured us it would be short conflict, yet we're still technically at war. When we will be able to stop chanting Truman lied, troops died?

When will Congress demand we remove troops from Japan? Certainly Japan can handle its own self-defense, and the troops have been there since 1945. We all knew the Japanese wouldn't be able to "handle" democracy because of their history, right?

When will Congress demand we remove troops from Germany? They have been there since 1945. The Germans and French have fought each other for hundreds of years, and our presence won't change that.

When will Congress demand we remove troops from Italy? They have been there since 1944. I think Italy is capable of revisiting its conflict with Ethiopia now.

When will Congress demand we remove troops from Cuba, Puerto Rico and Guam? The Spanish-American war was over more than 100 years ago. Speaking of which, why do we continue joint exercises with the Philippines, also a product of the Spanish-American war?

You know, there is only one war, that I can think of, in the last 100 years in which our troops didn't stick around for a while. Vietnam. The anti-war movement got our troops out of there, and thank God they did. Vietnam might have ended up like Germany, Japan, Puerto Rico, South Korea, or any of the other disastrous places where our troops stuck around.

We can't afford to keep troops in Iraq, and let it become another Japan.

An update on yesterday's blog

Yesterday I wrote about my concerns for the Iraqis who have worked with us and what was going to happen to them (see below). Just this morning I read some interesting news, which represents a good first step. Take a look at the legislation being considered regarding Iraqi refugees (go to: It changes the current program, which allows 50 immigrants a year, and allows up to 7,000. I am not certain if that is 7,000 total, or 7,000 per year. Regardless, it's the first time I've heard about it, and it's good news.

As an aside: I'm highly in favor of increasing legal immigration to the US. Granted, I'm biased because I'm the son of an immigrant, but, this is what our country was built on- people seeking to come here for a new life. Our country has more than enough space to accomodate folks coming here, legally. What makes our nation great is that we are united based around an idea, not an ethnicity.

I also think churches should take the lead here. I would encourage churches, or members of churches, to contact their local representatives and ask about this legislation, and offer to sponsor anyone who might come to the US under refugee status.

One last note: I believe this troop surge has a good chance of working. I know there is a lot of negativity out there. I would say this: let's be patient. Let's also show the Iraqis that we do indeed have a concern for how their country turns out. Sponsoring refugees, continuing to rebuild their economy (it has grown tremendously in the last year, which often isn't reported), and standing with them militarily are all important components.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Our Moral Obligation

As our troops move forward with the new Baghdad security plan, the politicians back home- of BOTH parties- are trying to find new and creative ways to oppose the plan. I can’t really comment on their motives or their purposes, but there IS something we have a moral obligation to talk about:

What will we do with the Iraqis working on American bases when we leave?

After my Bible study today, I was speaking with an Iraqi woman who comes to our service and attends the Bible study (she became a Christian 7 years ago when Jesus came to her in a vision). She works here on the base and was talking about the persecution she faces. I asked her “What will happen when the Americans leave? Will you go back to your home town?”

She said “No. They will kill me. I will have to try to get to Jordan, maybe.” She went on to recount for me that other friends of hers who went home after working for the Americans were murdered, one man in front of his four year old daughter and wife. There are worse stories.

Friends, you may not agree with the war, and I serve in the Army to make sure you get that right, and get to voice it out loud. But we’ve got a moral obligation to figure out what we’re going to do with those working directly for us when we leave. We didn’t do that well enough in Vietnam and when we left, and there were thousands of people who suffered torture, imprisonment and death.

I believe we should offer them the chance to come to America, as did many Vietnamese after the Vietnam War. I have come to love and respect the Iraqis I have met here. They are good people. The vast majority of them want peace, but a small element, mixed with foreign fighters, is determined to ruin it. I don’t believe America has the patience or guts to see this out, but we do owe it to those working with us to take care of them, if nothing else. I’m not talking about the politicians or the wealthy folks, but the average every day people- working as translators, working in the shops on base, cleaning up the base, and so on.

As an active member of the military, I cannot advocate political causes directly while in uniform. But I believe everyone reading this should begin to talk to their political representatives. Feel free to cut and paste what I have written and pass it around via email. Or send people a link to this blog. If we’re going to cut and run, as it appears, I think we ought to at least make plans for those who stand to get hurt. Our country can handle bringing in more immigrants. We don't need to be afraid because they're different or have a different religion. Instead we should recognize we have an obligation to help them.

This blog has gotten over 35,000 hits since I started writing- which isn’t all that many when you compare it to other web sites. But what if we start emailing our leaders and making some noise about this? Can we at least do that?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Talking About Faith

Last night we continued our sermon series on the book of Hebrews. This is the second week; last week we began by examining the Biblical definition of faith. We will go through chapter 11 in the book of Hebrews for the next 6 weeks. exploring the various characters shown for their exemplary faith. Last night, we discussed Abel and Enoch, which is an interesting start.

It was a great time of worship. The praise band really has a great sound, and we had 86 people show up- which is our largest group thus far. We have continued to grow each week. One aspect that is cool is the universal nature of the worship music; we have a very diverse congregation, with people from all over the world. One group that is largely represented is people from the Philippines. One of them remarked last night that the music was the same music they played in their church back home. As many of you know, I have remarked in this place that the music we play is the same as at my home church. It makes the world feel a lot smaller thinking of Christians around the world gathered in every place imaginable to praise God.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Victories and Defeats

Here is an interesting article on the attitudes of victory and defeat regarding Iraq:

Speaking of victories and defeats, my Badgers beat the Iowa Hawkeyes in basketball last night, by 12 points, completing the season series sweep. Including their victory in football, that gives the Badgers a 3-0 record against Iowa in the two big sports. Iowa's three losses to Wisconsin equal the total of ALL Badger losses in both football and Basketball (the Badgers are 24-2 in basketball and finished 12-1 in football). :) If we keep it going, we should be on pace to get a number one seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Should Religion Matter?

On a tangent that has nothing to do with is a question:

Should the religion of a Presidential candidate matter? That's a question that has surfaced in the past, and will be at the fore-front, I believe, in this next Presidential election.

In 1960, many Americans wrestled with the question of whether or not we could elect a Roman Catholic as President. Eventually, Kennedy became the first Roman Catholic President. The sky didn't fall. And today, the majority of the members of the Supreme Court are Roman Catholics, and they represent the more conservative viewpoints, by and large.

So what about this next Presidential election? Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, is a Bible believing Christian. Many people do not know that, but she has been involved with a somewhat controversial Evangelical group called "The Fellowship." Along with Hillary is Barack Obama, who I believe will be her running mate. He too is an Evangelical Christian, having come to faith in the 1980s. He is not, contrary to urban legends, a Muslim.

What about on the Republican side? Rudy Guiliani is a Roman Catholic, John McCain is a Protestant, and Mitt Romney is Mormon. If elected, Mitt Romney would be the first non-Christian President in US History (note: whether the Mormon religion is considered Christian or non-Christian is subject to interpretation, but for sake of simplicity, let's just say the Mormonism is not within the boundaries of traditional, orthodox Christianity). Yet, Mitt Romney is probably more in line with the values of most Evangelical Christian than Rudy Guiliani.

It's just interesting to think about. I do think that there are some very good people running for President from both parties. While I do not agree with many of Hillary Clinton's policies, I believe that some of us in Christian community have unfairly demonized her. (And many on the left have done the same to President Bush).

For me personally, I won't vote simply based on the candidate's religion. I'm not going to endorse anyone on here, but I'll end up voting based on what I think the person will do as President.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Little Down Time

I've had a little down time, so I went out for a run. It's actually a beautiful day outside today, although I went to the gym to run. The Army does not allow the use of headphones while running outside, so I find myself running the gym more often than outside.

I ran my two miles, and did it on the treadmill in 15:15. That's ok... nothing special by Army standards. But I always feel good after running.

As I mentioned, it is a beautiful day out there today. It almost makes you feel like you're not in a combat zone, aside from the occasion rumbling, and the poof of smoke in the distance.

That's the crazy thing about war: it is so close to "normal" in many ways, and it causes one to stop and think "We can't we just stop?" In other words, why can't we "all just get along?"

If only it were so simple. There are hatreds here going back 1400 years here. It makes the differences among Christians seem quite trivial. While there has been warfare- at times- between Catholics and Protestants, it is really a very short period of time in Christian history, in comparison to the overall history of Christianity. On the other hand, Sunni and Shia Muslims have been fighting going back to just a couple of decades after the death of Muhammed. Another way of saying it is that I'm not hopeful these rivalries will be solved soon.

As a Christian, I pray daily for the people of Iraq, that they might know Christ. That may seem naive to some, but that is what will make the only difference, in the long run. I know an Iraqi woman here, who comes to our service. She converted to Christianity 7 years ago, after being visited by Christ. She faces persecution from her family, and said she fears that her brother would kill her if she went home. Those types of stories seem unbelievable to some in our world, but it's precisely the sort of thing that has happened throughout history. People willing to die for their faith- how different that is than people wanting to kill for their faith!

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Amazing Unpredictable Internet

We had another great Sunday last night. Attendance was strong for worship, again, and it was communion Sunday.

We have an incredible chapel in which to worship; it was built by an Iraqi Christian family.

On a different note: my internet has been moving at an incredible speed this morning. Not only could I upload this picture, but I uploaded a bunch of pictures to a myspace site. Personally, I think myspace is quite tacky (sorry!), but I opened a page there, and you can view a bunch of pictures that I have uploaded. Go to: and under my little picture in the upper left corner, click on the link that says: "pics"

Also, I can't help mentioning that I was glad to see the Colts win the Super Bowl. You can't help but like Peyton Manning. Not sure why, but maybe it's because he looks like an average guy, and people can relate to him. Winning a Super Bowl will begin to cement the argument for him as the greatest Quarterback of all time. Plus, the Bears lost, and Vikings fans are always happy about that!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A Typical Day

A few days ago, one of the comments asked about a typical day for me.

Well, I normally work a minimum 12 hour "shift." I typically will spend my day doing a mix of visiting with Soldiers, administrative duties (such as overseeing chaplain movement by air), preparing my sermon, or Bible Study, or BUA briefing. I do the BUA (Battle Update Assessment) twice a week. This is the meeting the Commander (in this case, the Major General) holds for assessments on how things are going. For the chaplain portion, I present a short devotional that I write. Other duties include various other briefings, such as preparing Soldiers to go home for their two weeks of leave

Some days are longer than 12 hours, more like 16 hours. On those days, especially, I pretty much get up, go to the office, work, and go back and sleep and repeat the drill the next day.

We are also expected to stay active in PT (Physical Training, i.e., exercise). We are required to take an Army Physical Fitness Test in theater. Most Soldiers incorporate PT into their day; our boss, in the chaplain section, however, forbids this, so PT is done on our "own" time. This means I have to fit it in, somewhere outside of the 12-16 hour workday!

Sunday, thank God, is usually the slowest day. The highlight, of course, is our Sunday evening worship service. Today I am beginning a new sermon series, from the book of Hebrews, on faith. Tonight we will explore a Biblical view of "faith" and over the coming weeks we will look at faith as depicted through the lives of the various people mentioned in Hebrews 11.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Email, Internet and Blogging

Hi everyone. I wanted to comment on the internet accessibility over here for a moment. One of the blessings of the internet is that I get quite a few emails from family and friends back home- which I love! However, it also takes me a long time to return emails. The problem is that the internet is incredible unreliable. Some days it is non-existent (e.g., if we get a dust storm, or strong winds... which is fairly common here). Other days it is just plain slow. Yesterday, for example, I returned 4 emails, and it took me about an hour. It wasn't that I was writing a lot... it's just that the web browser kept freezing as my internet connection would fade in and out. Plus, I'm in the office 12-16 hours a day... and they're not real excited about me sending personal emails from there. I send some but mainly to my wife. :)

So... if you email me and don't hear back for 1 week, or even a month, it's not that I don't love 'ya... but it's the reality of the internet here. I have about an hour in the morning where I know I usually have a pretty good connection, and my wife and I will IM during that time, and I send off a couple of emails as well.

Also... with my blog. This is a way for me to communicate what I'm doing here, as well as my thought, opinions, things I'm reading, etc. I appreciate and love comments on the blog. However, now that the blogger has made it easier for me to block individual comments, I am making sure to block out comments that include ad hominem attacks on individuals who post, authors I quote, or myself. (ad hominen refers to personal and/or emotional arguments/attacks) Bottom line: with this blog, I'm not trying to recreate 7th grade debate club. Some people will like what I post, some will disagree. That's ok. And I don't mind comments to that effect. I might be wrong, or my perspective might be limited. But the main goal of this blog is to communicate what I'm seeing, thinking and experiencing, and not to be the center of all internet debate.

One thing I know: while I appreciate the "easy" internet access from my room, I also constantly forget how much I miss the internet speeds back home.... even on dial up computers, and the reliability. My wife and I got DSL a while back, and so I have been especially spoiled. But it's nice just to have access... even if it is inconsistent.