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, March 31, 2007

Busy-ness and Daylight Savings Time

It's been busy around here lately, so I haven't been able to write as much. As you can imagine, with the surge of troops, it makes more planning for us, as part of our job at the Division level is to plan out coverage for all of our Soldiers- which is all of Baghdad. So, it's been interesting. The days go by very quickly.

We also started Daylight Savings Time on Friday night/ Saturday morning. A few weeks after the States, I understand. It's always nice to go out that first night (in this case, tonight) and realize it is light later than you anticipated! Small things, I guess, but still nice.

It's a great time of year here- I know the HOT weather is coming, but it's been pleasant... upper 70s and lower 80s still. A little rain now and then, but overall the climate isn't too bad. But summer is coming...

The nicest thing for me, climate wise, has been my allergies, or rather, my lack of allergies. Anyone back home knows that my allergies in the Midwest go nuts. I grew up in Minnesota, but moved out to California in high school, and my allergies were fine there. Going back to college in Wisconsin wasn't too bad, but the part of the Midwest I live in now seems to make my allergies bad... but it's been nice here in Iraq with now pollens, etc. Not that I want to stay here, but I haven't gotten sick since I left home. Oh well... I'd rather get periodic colds back at home than be sick-free and away from the family!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Islamic Sharia Law in Minnesota?

This is an interesting article:

This appears in the online Wall Street Journal Editorial Page, though the author writes for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Sights, Sounds and Smells

It was a busy day today. In the evening I flew over to Rustamiyah- my old stomping grounds- for a memorial. I flew with one of our generals and represented the Division Chaplain Staff. I love being up in the air in a helicopter, and as I observed everything as we flew, it occured to me that being here in Iraq entails many different sights, sounds and smells.

Visually, there are the ever present helicopters and jets overhead; Soldiers carrying their weapons everywhere; crisp salutes rendered as I boarded the helicopter; the glare and heat of the anti-missile flares going off from our choppper as we floated over Baghdad; the street lights and homes below us as we clipped along at about 120 mph; the humvees, tanks and Bradleys, and so much more.

The sounds are so varied. Once in a while there is boom of a rocket or mortar, or a controlled detonation; there is the chopped air and rumbling from helicopters above, or the high pitched whirring and whining while inside the helicopter. The sound of volleys and the playing of taps was interspersed for me over the last couple of days. The pop-pop-pop comes from both the firing ranges, and gun battles in the distance.

The smells... the smell of Rustamiyah tonight was the most distinct. Getting off the chopper, I smelled again the strange mix of both sewage and sulfur, with a hint of gunpowder, that is so unique there. It is unpleasant- mainly- but also strangely familiar and not so bad in that respect. Or, it is the smell of the DFAC on steak and lobster night... as they "cook" the steaks in the most depressing manner possible, ensuring that the presentation of steak here will not spoil me, but only make me hunger all that much more for a "good" steak. (I should point out that I love our DFAC... as long as it isn't steak!). Then there is the ever present smell of dusty sand. Does sand smell? I don't know... but there is a dust smell that is worse as it dries out and blows.

Things You Don't Get Used To

Yesterday was a busy day... it began with a return to Camp Liberty via ground... late in the night/early morning. It's always strange traveling by ground, though our route was quite secure. I got back to my room around 5am, and hit my bed for a few hours and then headed into the office to catch up with things.

Later that day I represented the Division Chaplain's Office at a memorial ceremony for 4 Soldiers. I never get used to these. I have not kept track of the number of memorial ceremonies I have either attended, or performed, but it's far more than I would ever like. (obviously zero would be the perfect number).

The ceremony follows a standard format, and ends with the final roll call, the firing of volleys, taps and the rendering of honors. During last night's ceremony, we had incoming mortars during the firing of volleys. Fortunately, the mortars didn't hit anything or anyone, but it was bizarre to have the mortars bracketed by volleys.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

More from Freedom Rest

Our retreat continues at Freedom Rest. Over the past couple of days we have discussed topics relating to Biblical wisdom, and how to apply it to our lives. We have spent time looking at purposes and goals, setting priorities and making right decisions, conflict resolution, communication and financial management. We've dug into Scripture, had discussions and I think it's gone well.

In addition, our discussion times have happened in conjunction with other planned activities. The staff here does an incredible job of offering a variety of activities, from basketball, to karaoke, to flag football, to a diving tournament off the high dive today (involving distance, hitting targets, and form!).

It's been a blast, and a well deserved rest for our Soldiers.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


These pictures are taken in the moments after a car bomb near us. The bridge seen in this picture is the 14th of July Bridge. Apache helicopters are circling, and the Iraqi Police have blocked off the road by us.

At Freedom Rest

Well, I'm in the midst of taking Soldiers on a retreat to "Freedom Rest," a "resort" located in Baghdad where they Soldiers are able to relax, unwind, and have some fun. We have spent some time in discussions groups, where I've led sessions on personal wisdom from a Godly perspective, as well as looking at wisdom in personal finances. We will also talk about goal setting, priorities and purpose, as well as conflict resolution and communication. But most of the time is set aside for Soldiers to relax, and enjoy the time off. We have played basketball, flag football, water basketball, tug of war, and various other things.

But we're never too far from combat. Earlier today, there was an explosion close to us and we took cover. We then saw the smoke rising nearby, on the other side of the river, and a number of us went to the top of the high dive at the pool (about 4 stories up, see the pictures), and we able to see the Apache helicopters circling, the responses teams, and other things. It sounds like it might have been a car bomb, but I haven't seen the reports yet.

All in all, though, this has been a very nice time for the Soldiers we brought, and there is still plenty to come for them.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Two Ideas

Some say one of the biggest issues facing our military is the inadequate size. The reality is that one of the greatest stressors for Soldiers is the frequency of tours they are serving. So what is the solution? I’ve got two possible ones, and would like comments. Obviously I’m not a politician, so they’re just for discussion and for fun, but I think they’re decent ideas.

Solution # 1: Increase the Army through Financial Incentives

Greatly expand the size of the Active Duty Army to around 750,000 Soldiers. But rather than lowering the standards to do so, we would greatly increase the incentives. In other words: free market economics. America could show it supports its troops through an immediate pay raise: 30% for enlisted and 15-20% for Officers. We pay our junior enlisted far too little. We will attract higher numbers and better Soldiers by simply acknowledging the realities of our economy, and offering greater fiscal incentives. Yes, this would entail tax increases, or cuts in spending in others places, but it comes down to the actually supporting our troops in a more tangible manner. I believe most Americans really do support the troops and would be game for this.

Other incentives could include: lowering, or eliminating income taxes (similar to what is done in a combat zone, except do it at all times for Service Members); increasing educational incentives (there are already some good ones for members of the military, but there could be more).

Solution # 2: Mandatory National Service

Here is the concept: every American is required to give 2 or 3 years of his or her life in service of their country, sometime between the ages of 18-25. No exceptions for income, race, religion, etc.

One option is 2 years in the military. For people choosing this option, they would still have to pass the physical, moral and educational requirements for joining the military. They would get paid the normal wages and benefits and have the option of staying longer than their 2 years if they desired. The other option, for people with health issues, moral objections to the military, or desiring another form of service, would be a national job corps, similar to some of the FDR’s programs in the 1930s. They could be put to work cleaning and repairing national parks, doing road construction, helping the needy or elderly, guarding our borders, working for homeland security, etc. Those choosing national service over military service would NOT get to choose the exact form of this national service, so long as it didn’t interfere with their religious or moral convictions (this would also force diverse groups of people to work together- people of different income brackets, ethnicity, religion, etc.). The people choosing national service over military service would be provided room and board, and a decent stipend, but not the full pay of the military.

Some have said that the current War on Terror is being fought by the military, and not by the nation as a whole. This would help change that for current and future conflicts, by bringing all of us together to serve the nation in a variety of forms.

One last thing: people who know me know that I am a fiscal conservative, believing in small government and low taxes… BUT, in this case, I think spending the money to support our military, and/or national service for our young people is worth the investment. What are your thoughts?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Pop Quiz

Guess who said this, in support war with Iraq, in October 2002?

"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well affects American security." -- October 10, 2002

I'll post the answer in my comments section!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Drop in Violence in Baghdad

This is taken from the Kuwait News Agency. Sectarian violence is down 80%, and the deaths of US Soldiers has dropped by 60%. The story is below:

Baghdad security crackdown seriously curbs killings of US soldiers

BAGHDAD, March 14 (KUNA) -- The rate of killings of US troops in Iraq has been on the decline, down by 60 percent, since the launch of the new security measures in Baghdad, according to statistics revealed by the Multi-National Force -Iraq Combined Press Information Centre.

Only 17 members of the US military in Iraq have been killed since February 14 till March 13, compared to 42 from January 13 to February 13; the rate was on the decline during the first month of the security crackdown, compared to a month before.

Two of the 17 soldiers died at US Baghdad camps of non-combat causes.

The remarkable decrease in killings among the US troops came at a time when more of these troops were deployed in the Iraqi capital, especially in districts previously regarded as extremely hazardous for them such as Al-Sadr City, Al-Azamiyah, and Al-Doura.

Meanwhile, US attacks on insurgent strongholds north of Baghdad curbed attacks against helicopters. Before the new security plan, many such craft were downed leaving 20 soldiers dead.

The US army in Iraq had earlier said that sectarian fighting and violence in Baghdad had dropped sharply, by about 80 percent, since the launch of the plan.

The statistics excluded US troops killed in other governorates such as Al-Anbar, Diyala, and Salahiddin.

As to the latest human losses, the US army announced Wednesday that two American soldiers had been killed, one in southern Baghdad and the other northeast of the capital.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What Chaplains Need To Do

I want to post something a little different than what I've done lately. I'm going to write a little about what chaplains in the Army ought to be able to do- as seen from my limited experience. I am working with two Soldiers here at 1st CAV who are planning to go to seminary and becomes chaplains, and I know there are some who read my blog who are considering the chaplaincy. So, with that said, here are my opinions (i.e., this is not official... just my thoughts):

-A chaplain needs to speak well in public. This includes not only preaching, but giving various kinds of briefs, as well as speaking at Command and Staff meetings. During any given week, I will preach to my service, which has grown from about 30 people to close to 100, I will give two morning devotionals at the Commanding General's battle update, I will give briefings for Soldiers going on R&R, and I lead a Bible study for about 15-20 people. You have to be comfortable in front of various audiences, especially in tense or emotional settings like a memorial ceremony.

-You need to be able to create an atmosphere in which Soldiers feel welcome. In other words, be friendly! Love the Soldiers. Joke with people, get to know them, circulate, start conversations. Since moving up to 1st CAV from my previous FOB, I have finally started to really get to know people and have seen my counseling load increase as people feel comfortable chattin' with me. You have to be approachable.

-But you also need to remember that you're an Officer. This carries certain obligations, responsibilities and authority. As a Reserve chaplain, I'm a pastor most of the time, and this mindset has been the biggest change for me while on Active Duty. There is a certain way of speaking, of carrying yourself, and it includes times where you need to be a little "strict." This includes such things as remembering the chain of command, knowing which jobs you can do, and which your assistant can do, and not mixing them up.

-You also need to be comfortable with doing a lot of counseling as a chaplain. It's a huge part of your job. As Soldiers get to know you, they will start coming with various issues. Often times they are very difficult problems, with no simple solution. It's important to be comfortable with this. For seminary students considering the Army chaplaincy, I'd strongly urge you to take as many counseling courses as possible in seminary, especially in the area of marital counseling. Also, have your own sets of resources, a knowledge base, and examples when it comes to speaking with Soldiers about marriage. Marital issues are the largest group of issues when it comes to counseling Soldiers.

-Along with this, you need to be able to listen non-judgmentally. Soldiers have strong opinions and language, and they don't usually mute it all around chaplains (though they do try...). When I'm counseling at my church, I don't usually have people dropping F-bombs or other swear words. With Soldiers, it's sometimes a different story! You can't flinch. You'll also hear lots of complaints, and even if you don't agree with them, you have to listen. This isn't the same as condoning language, and there are times you have to stop a Soldier and call them on their language (that's part of your role as an Officer). When I was at the mob station, there was a Soldier making loud, crude comments about women, and I locked him up, and told him to stop. But for the most part you just gotta love the Soldiers and meet them where they're at.

-The last thing is that you need to be able to think theologically. I know that sounds like a given for people coming out of seminary, but this isn't as easy as it sounds. Many Soldiers come to me with theological questions, and I need to answer them as I believe, but I also have to understand that this isn't a church. In a pluralistic in environment, no one is asking me to change or mute what I believe, but you also need to know when to say certain things. This takes some theological discernment. Experienced chaplains know what I'm talking about.

Finally, two other things: you have to be flexible and you have to be organized. Both are crucial.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Positives and Negatives

Those of you following the news saw that the US and Iran met face to face at this weekend's conference here in Baghdad. I think there were both positive and negative developments. The positive, of course, was that the Iranians and Americans had a chance to meet. The negative lies in the fact that there are still serious issues dividing the US and Iran.

Iran has a radical leader who believes that the "12th Imam" will soon return to wage war against the enemies of Islam. His theology affects his stance toward the US, yet there are indications that many within Iran are not comfortable with his stances. The reality for Iran is that the US is a natural ally; if the Iranians were to have more moderate leadership, they might find that what the US is doing in the Middle East is for their benefit as well. Most people know that Al Qaeda is an enemy of Iran (being a Shia state, and Al Qaeda, of course, is a Sunni group). Iran would benefit from Al Qaeda being stamped out of Iraq and the Middle East for good.

Another big headline from this week:
-A top Iranian General defected, apparently, to the United States

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Things I'll Miss... sort of

I went for a long run today, around a lake we call "Lost Lake." From here to there and back, I think it was about 6 miles, and it kicked my butt. I just wasn't in a long run mode today.

As I was running along a wall that is adjacent to the outside, I had a very beautiful mosque in sight for much of the run. With a blue-tiled dome, and minarets, it was quite a nice view. They were also doing the prayer call and playing music for much of my run. I realized that it is these types of experiences that I'll miss when I head home. (don't get me wrong... I'll be more than ready to head home at the end of my tour, but there are some things I'll miss).

I also had that realization coming home tonight from the office. I leave the main division building to head home usually around midnight or a little later. I love this time of night. It's relatively quiet, the stars are bright, and the sound is broken by the occasional rush of a helicopter, barely visible, as it streaks across the sky. I enjoy it.

Along with that time of the night, walking and contemplating my day, I'll also miss being in the middle of everything. This may not make sense, though others over here would understand. But there is something about being in the mix. Being at the Division level there are things I see, know and hear of that never make the news. The media, whether Fox News or CNN, can never do justice to the experiences here in their short time slots. I'll miss seeing the human side of what is happening here.

I've still got a while until I return home. So... I'll keep writing, and continue to ask God to teach me from it all.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Exit Plan?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Good Development

Iran and Syria have agreed to attend a conference this weekend, in Baghdad, in which the security of Iraq will be discussed. The government of Iraq will be hosting it, and the US and Great Britain will also attend, among other nations. This is a great step forward, and could go a long way toward ending the violence here.

The Different Views

Wow... I just watched the NBC Nightly News report with Brian Williams and Richard Engel, reporting from here, with an interview with one of our Generals. Without getting into details, all I can say is that the perspective offered on their report is so biased, it's hard to believe. I especially loved how they paraded a poll showing 69% of Americans are not optimistic twice during the report, sandwiching the interview with our General. After watching this report, it's not surprising that Americans are pessimistic, considering the perspective they are being offered!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Some random things

I wandered over to the bazaar today and bought this vase for my wife. It is made by an artist here in Baghdad. The Arabic writing on the vase is actually a poem. I really like the way Arabic script looks.

Yesterday I posted some quotes from an author and I discussed how certain tones affect Soldiers. One of my good friends, who is opposed to the war, emailed me and made some good points. One of them was to point out that the person I quoted is NOT one of the main authors on Daily Kos. My bad. It doesn't change the tone of his comments, but I don't want to imply that he is the creator of the post or anything.

He also reaffirmed that there are many, like him, who do support the troops, and do support the war in Afghanistan, while opposing the war in Iraq. I respect that, even though we have different opinions.

So the question is how to discuss the war in a way that doesn't involve name calling, like the gentleman I quoted, or the demonizing of the administration, and, instead, how to discuss solutions for victory. It's not an easy balance to strike.

In the meantime, I am trying to absorb as much as I can here- from other Soldiers, from the Iraqis, from what I'm seeing, from my own learning process. It has clarified my resolve that we need to see this thing through, and I hope that we as a nation can come together on that.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

How the Tone of the Debate Hurts Soldiers

Many say "I'm against the war, but I support the Soldiers." Ok... I understand that, sort of. But take a look at some of the words emanating from the left, this coming from an influential liberal blog (Daily Kos). Tell me if claiming our government is fascist and accusing our troops of "war crimes" is supportive? Tell me how we're not going to be similar to the vets coming back from Vietnam? I'd rather have someone spit on me than call me a war criminal. Aside from supportive magnetic ribbons on cars, how is the tone different from that era? Here is the quote (from; all the words in blue are his words:

"If the Democrats fail (to end the war), the only option left is revolution and foreign intervention. Tyranny is but assured because Congress cannot and will not exercise it's Constitutional power to end this fascist Coup d'etat.

This is outrageous! The only two options available to Congress, Impeachment and cutting the funds, are now both off the table. What now Democrats? What other magic powers will you invoke? You have taken the only constitutional means you have available to end this fascist train off the table.

"We don't have the votes to do it,"

You don't have the votes to do it because every Democrat is silent on the WAR CRIMINALS that have infested this country. And furthermore, "So what?" Put it up for a vote. Then do it again and again and again. Twenty six times if you have to just like the Arctic Wildlife National Refuge oil drilling agenda.

What up Speaker Pelosi? Are you to be known as the first woman Speaker and last Speaker of the semi-free republic in America? The avarice, the complicity, the cowardice, infidelity, disloyalty, and dishonor on display is a discredit and a disgrace to all Americans and True Patriots.

It is truly nauseating to think that, as this nation sinks down into tyranny and breathes its last gasps of democracy, the democrats have, of their own free choosing, removed from themselves the only two viable options at gaining back liberty.

This is not oversight. This is complicity in war crimes." -- wolverine 06"

Ok, for the more liberal readers of my blog, I want to hear from you: do you believe that "war criminals" have "infested" our country? Seriously? Do you believe that revolution and foreign intervention is necessary?

Here is how you can support the troops: let us win the war. Let us do what we have trained to do: take the fight to the insurgents. Rather than talking about cutting funding, as Murtha was doing, how about INCREASING the funding? Send more troops and let's get this thing finished.

Calling us, and our leaders, war criminals is not supporting the troops. Claiming this is a "semi-free republic" is sheer insanity. Who believes this?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Another interesting link

The Sun Is Shining

Yesterday morning I went for a “fun” run. By this, I mean that I ran slower but went a longer distance, and ran outdoors around parts of Camp Liberty and Camp Victory. Running around a couple of the lakes over at Victory was really quite pleasant- the weather is just about perfect right now (upper 70s, dry, not too dusty, but not rainy season either)- and it’s interesting to see the sights. What we now call Camp Victory has a number of artificial lakes which have “lake” houses that were used by Saddam’s friends, Generals, etc. It’s also a place where you will run into Soldiers from a number of different nations. Just an all around pleasing jog for my Sunday run.

I should also note that things are looking more positive over here on the war front. The number of Soldiers killed in action has dropped recently, and there has been a dramatic decrease in the amount of sectarian violence in Baghdad. In addition, and this is VERY important, US and Iraqi forces are setting up the first JSS (Joint Security Station) in Sadr City. Many of the worst death squads and various militias (the Mahdi being the largest and most imfamous) have come from Sadr City, and we are finally tackling this issue.

Does this mean that all is rosy? No… but I feel positive. These are important steps, and people back home need to know about it. Getting the security situation settled will open up the door to getting business and industry going as well as so many other things.

One anecdote: there is a vendor at the bazaar here who makes small stained “glass” windows, with pictures of Iraq, Army unit symbols, personalized with your name, and your dates in Iraq and other things you want added. For a long time, he hasn’t been taking orders, because his shop was in a dangerous area and he didn’t fel safe traveling there. The other day, I went in to the bazaar, and asked if he was taking orders yet, and he said “Yes!” The wait is about two weeks for these. I didn’t order one that day, but I’m going to.

Finally, speaking of the bazaar: I have been buying little souvenirs here and there. There are certain things which are way overpriced, but other things- especially the unique gifts- are much less expensive. I bought a painting a couple of weeks ago from a local artist. It is really quite pretty, and includes Arabic script on a beautifully colored background. And the art is very inexpensive. These are the types of things I want to bring back: things that not only are truly unique to Iraq, but also directly support Iraqis. I personally think it’s part of my duty to spend some of my money in ways that will benefit people here. I can’t do much, but a few dollars here and there will help. I plan to buy some handmade bowls from this same vendor as well. If my wife doesn’t like the art, it will end up in my office! :)