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! :)

Thursday, May 31, 2007

CAV Spirit

Here is the devotional I presented at the Commanding General's meeting today:

May God bless our Soldiers and their families and our coalition partners.

“Only those are fit to live who are not afraid to die.”
-Gen. Douglas MacArthur

Gen. MacArthur was speaking to the truth that the willingness to sacrifice one’s own life, the willingness to be brave in the face of death, was a willingness that allows one to truly live.

But that’s easier said than done. Most humans instinctively fear death. While many are brave on the battlefield, far more spend their lives trying to avoid the one thing that is inevitable: death.

Billions of dollars are spent on surgeries, medicines, cosmetics, and who knows what else, all to lengthen our lives, even a little. Countless people are made rich while peddling the latest cure to aging, or promising a longer life. But in the end we all end up in the same place.

However, if we can face our deaths- and find peace- we will be free to truly live as we ought. The Good News is that, in spite of all the cures for aging and the attempts to extend life, there already exists a cure for death. God Himself has assured us that, through faith, we have eternal life and need not fear the transition from this life to eternal life.

Let’s apply this to our own lives. If we know we have eternal life, how should this change how we live this life? God frees us from the fear of death, and in doing so He makes us fit to live. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The victory over death has been won. Now we must live like we believe it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Another Denton Quote

Tactically, the wars in Iraq and Vietnam are very different. Comparisons between the wars are inappropriate in that respect. However, comparing the political, cultural and leadership climates is probably an important task. Here is another quote from Sen. Denton, in his book When Hell Was in Session. As you read it, think about substituting our current conflict in Iraq, for the Vietnam War, and see if the comparison, and the possible outcomes in Iraq, are appropriate. His words are in blue, with my comments in black:

"Sadly, I believe that the apathy and disunity at home led to the betrayal of millions of Southeast Asians. The war that was won by the heavy bombing of 1972 was lost in the following months by a mood of disunity and by a weakness in the national character. [My comment: might we also betray the Iraqis, as we did the Southeast Asians who continue to suffer? We won the war against Iraq (i.e., Saddam's government), but has our disunity and weak national character led us to possibly lose the peace?]

In a democracy, the leadership can’t just do what it wants to do. Essentially, it is governed by the mood and morality of the people and what the people will permit. I believe that we should have some consideration for the leader who tries to run the country amidst tremendous complexity and ever-ready criticism. For many years now this country has operated without a bi-partisan foreign policy, and one result has been a flood of one-sided criticism of the leadership. [My comment: does this sound familiar? How would one describe the "mood" and "morality" of the American people today?]

In our failure to pass the test of Vietnam, we ignored the nature of the worldwide communist threat and also lost our credibility. Others will be swayed by the forfeiture of South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Angola. And they will note that since 1960, our national defense budget has fallen from 51.6 percent of the total budget to 27.8 percent in 1976. In contrast, Communist expenditure for arms has risen steadily. Those nations still undecided may choose to accept Communism as the easiest and safest course. [My comment: are we ignoring the threat of radical Islamic terrorism, and will this possibly cause more moderate Islamic states to fall under the sway of radical Islam if we leave Iraq, and seem defeated? We ought to ask the Christians in Vietnam if our failure to stand by South Vietnam has cost them? Or, we could ask if the victims of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia were betrayed by our loss of credibility in Vietnam? Thankfully we had a President who stood up to Communism in the 1980s; will we have the same courage in our fight today?]

Arms, of course, are just part of the answer; we must be morally and spiritually strong as well, and believe in our mission. And we must remember that peace is not simply the absence of war. Those in slavery have no peace, as Solzhenitsyn tells us." [My comment: very true, yet I wonder if we understand this lesson. Gen. Petraeus, our top Commander in Iraq, has wisely commented on the need to have more than just a military solution, yet, as he has pointed out, arms remain part of the answer]

Anyway, I do recommend reading Denton's book. It has given me a new appreciation and respect for him, and men like John McCain [note: that is not an endorsement for or against McCain]. I think the lessons of Vietnam are applicable today, and I hope we are open to applying those lessons learned to our situation in Southwest Asia today.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Memorial Day Thoughts

Here are some thoughts I emailed yesterday to some people back home:

Hi Everyone,
I'm just finishing a book called When Hell Was in Session, by Sen. Jeremiah Denton, Rear Admiral, ret. He recounts his time as a POW during the Vietnam War. Those of you in my parents' generation have probably read this book, or know of it. Anyway, he recounts his torture and his faith in God through it all. One of the Sergents Major here at 1st CAV lent it to me; his uncle was one of the POWs in the book.
So, to remember Memorial Day, let me include this quote from Sen. Denton:
"Democracy and freedom are rarities; hard to attain, harder to preserve. The pages of history are littered with freedom's stillborn, of people who rose against their oppressor, only to have sweet victory stolen from their grasp by another oppressor."
"But we are different. The strength of our nation is more than a material strength. We are a strongly moral people, and our country is based on spiritual strength. Lose that, and we lose everything."
"The Declaration of Independence has established certain moral confines, and governs in a manner consistent wit the spirit under which our nation was founded: Love God; love thy neighbor as thyself."
"God is denied by the Communists, and this denial is reflected by the way in which they treat their own subjects. Their system derives its strength from discipline imposed by the state. Ours derives its strength from the collective self-discipline of our individual citizens."
"Such thoughts would carry me through the night, until I heard in the predawn distance the rattling sound of the Hanoi streetcars beginning their first circuit. Then my thoughts would turn to surviving another day."
Even though he is speaking about the Vietnam War, I believe these words ring true in our current fight against terror. My prayer is that the attempts at democracy and freedom in Iraq will not be stillborn. As I write, we have heard the thunderous sound of incoming mortars, a reminder that freedom is hard fought.
I also want to include this quote from Ronald Reagan, who said:
"Double, no triple, our troubles, and we'd still be better off than any other people on earth. It is time that we recognized that ours was, in truth, a noble cause."
Our nation, with its freedom, continues to fight for a noble cause. Remember how blessed we are today, and remember those who died for our freedom!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Sharing Faith and Reading Books

Last night I had a very inspiring moment. We had finished worship, at our Sunday evening contemporary service. I preached on "Life and Death," in which I laid out the Biblical principles surrounding death and eternal life. As I have mentioned in previous posts, we have a wide variety of people who come to the service: American Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Sailors, but also civilians from a number of nations.

Anyway, after the service, I witnessed one of the Iraqi Christians (she converted from Islam to Christian before the Americans came), speaking to a Romanian about faith in Jesus Christ, and being saved. What an amazing blessing from God to see Scripture come alive, ("people from every tribe, nation and tongue..."), as she shared her faith with him!

On a different note, I continue to keep my spare time busy with reading and working on my Chaplain Captain's Career Course (for Reserve Chaplains, the majority of it is online).

There are a couple of must read books. One is an old book, lent to me by a Sergeant Major whose uncle was mentioned in the book. It is called "When Hell Was in Session," and is written by former Sen. Jeremiah Denton, Rear Admiral, ret., about his horrific experience as a POW in Vietnam. All I can say is that this book is an amazing read. It reminds me that Vietnam and Iraq are two very different wars. I'll post about that in the near future.

The other book is "My Year Inside Radical Islam," by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, who chronicles his journey from liberal Judaism, to radical, fundamentalist Islam, and the time he spent inside an organization that would later be implicated for terrorist activities. He eventually came to Christ and now works with various government agencies in helping them to understand Islam from an inside perspective. This too is an excellent, must read book.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Various Things

Well, it's hot here. I suppose that goes without saying, but it really IS hot. My indoor/outdoor digital thermometer says it's 118 degrees, at 5:30pm. And it's May. Wow. My thermometer is not in direct sunlight, so it's been pretty accurate, when I look at the weather reports. And it's going to get much warmer.

I kind of like the heat though. We had a training exercise this morning, in our full body armor (after traveling back in my body armor from the IZ) and it got a little hot, but when I'm walking around without the armor, or even in my PT clothing, the heat actually feels nice at times. Then again, I like saunas.

It's been a relaxing week. I took a group of Soldiers on a retreat, again, to Freedom Rest in the IZ (the International Zone, also known as the Green Zone). We flew back this morning. Nothing like flying over Baghdad in a helicopter, with the windows open, at 125 mph! It is amazing how low and close the pilots will fly to certain things... such as power lines, buildings and other objects which are bad for helicopters!

I also want to say hi to the students at Haley Elementary School, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They posted some questions on my blog (see the post for 14 May, "Back to Blogging"). Anyway, to answer the students' questions: "Why don't you like spiders?" Well, for starters, they have 8 legs. I don't like creatures with that many legs. Six I can handle. Four is better. But eight legs.... ugh, that's terrible. Plus, they are kind of creepy, the way they just sort of hang out. And, some of them bite. I was bit by a poisonous spider when I was a camp counselor one summer in college. It was a Brown Recluse. It made me pretty sick for a couple of days. Of course, I didn't like spiders before that, but that made me like them even less.

Another student asked: "Were they big, and did you get bit?" No, I haven't been bit here. Yet. As far as the size... I've seen some on the bridge that are about one inch across, but the camel spiders here apparently can get about as big as a grown man's hand. I don't know what I'll do if I come across something that big. If it's by my room, I will use my anti-spider spray. (Camel Spiders are technically not spiders... they are a type of arachnid, but, they're close enough). There are also Scorpions here. I haven't seen any wild ones myself, but they don't bother me as much (unless I got stung). I'm not sure why they don't bother me as much... maybe because they have tails.

Also, I think it's cool that your class has a Spider-man themed bulletin board. I hope to see it in the movie theaters when I get back to the States.

Please keep all of our Soldiers and their families in your prayers, and keep up the great work at school!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Good Ally

Many of you know that British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is retiring. He has been a great ally and friend of the United States. Here is what he had to say about the War in Iraq, when visiting the White House yesterday. The quote is from an article on the NPR website:

He [Blair] said he is proud of the choices he has made.

"It was right to remove Saddam, it was right to give the country a chance to have the democratic process, and it's right now to try to fight people who, by terrorism, are trying to disrupt that process."

Blair has been unwavering in his support of the war, and despite public outcry, he hasn't lost patience.

"The reason why people in Britain and people in America have lost patience, to an extent, is because they see the carnage and bloodshed going on and they say, 'This is now four years after the fall of Saddam. So, if that is still happening, that must mean it's wrong, that we shouldn't be doing it.' My question is, why is this bloodshed happening?" Blair said.

He said the conflict is being driven largely by al-Qaida and Iranian-backed groups and "a small minority of extremists" in Iraq who are combining their efforts to cause as much damage as possible so people lose faith and lose patience.

[My note: some people say the Operation in Iraq is a distraction from the overall Global War on Terror. But, as Prime Minister Blair notes, we're fighting Al Qaida in Iraq. Isn't that the War on Terror?]

"If we're confronted with something that's totally evil — to drive a car bomb into the middle of a crowded market and kill a hundred completely random, innocent men, women and children — [and] we end up saying, 'Since we're facing that battle and since it's tough and ugly and we're losing our troops and our forces and that's a tremendous thing of grief and anguish' … [and] we then back away, we've handed an enormous victory to the enemy we're fighting."

[My note: Again, I agree with the Prime Minister. No one wants to stay in Iraq any longer than we have to; however, if we leave, we are essentially handing Iraq over to Al Qaida.]

Blair said that most war critics think the U.S. and British response to Iraq and terrorism provoked more terrorism, and only made the situation worse. But he disagrees with that assessment.

"The fact is, September 11 came before Afghanistan or Iraq," Blair said. "This terrorism has been a generation growing; it will take a generation to knock it out."

He's right.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

APFT, Thunderstorms and Mars

Yesterday was an interesting day. I took (and passed), the Army Physical Fitness Test, which is a regular physical fitness test required by the Army. We normally take it a couple of times a year, though in the combat zone you really only have to take it once. So, that's out of the way.

We also had thunderstorms last night. It sounded wonderful. The weather during the day had been quite nice... around 90 degrees, but cloudy, so it is comparable to more like 80 at home. Then around 1930 (7:30pm) it started to rain a little. Within an hour, it was down pouring, with thunder and lightning. We live in metal trailers, so the beating of the rain on the roof was soothing.

Now, this morning, as I woke up, the air has a reddish tint to it. I don't know if it's dust, but it almost looks a little like the pictures you see of Mars.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Why Winning Matters

Here is an excellent article, dealing with why we need to win in Iraq:

This is an excerpt from the article:

"What we have now is just a protracted guerilla war, one that cannot go on forever, because no war ever does. If you think the war is hard on you, since you have to hear about two or three American deaths on the news each night, imagine what it is like for the insurgents and their host population. They die in far larger numbers than we do, their families suffer deprivation, they are increasingly hounded by Iraqi death squads bent on block punishment, and they see their most hated enemy (Iran, not us) growing stronger, while their Al Qaeda “allies” try to brainwash their children and take over their communities."


"But we would do well to slog this war through. The consequences of defeat are too great for anyone who loves America -- Republican, Democrat, or Independent -- to allow that to happen. The troops in Iraq are not fighting for the ungrateful Iraqis as claimed by the demoralizers. They are fighting for America. [emphasis mine] They are fighting to avoid the worst-case scenario: defeat and its disastrous aftermath."

I'd encourage you to read the full article. It's a little political at the beginning, but the overall thrust of it, about the results of defeat, is right on the mark.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Bridge of Fear

Along with the heat, something new has arrived: spiders.

I don't know why, but I really haven't seen any spiders here in Iraq until now. Why is this relevant? Well, those who know me know that I'm terrified of spiders. Not just a little afraid, not just kind of uncomfortable, but completely and utterly terrified.

Nothing else scares me like that. Snakes? No problem. Wasps? Bees? Other bugs? Not an issue. Flying in a helicopter or riding a roller coaster? Sounds good.

Spiders? Bad.

So last night, around midnight, I was walking to the Dining Facility, and there is a small bridge that crosses a creek. The creek has a bunch of fish, and turtles, and other wildlife. Along the creek are rows and rows of tall reeds... maybe 6-10 feet tall in places.

On the bridge, however, there are spiders.

You see them at night. As you cross the creek, the bridge is well-lit with small walking lights. These lights attract bugs, and those bugs attract.... spiders. As I crossed the bridge, just about every part underneath handrail was covered with brand new webs, with fat spiders sitting in the middle of the web. It looked kind of like a horror movie, with well-spun round webs, with a spider in the middle of each of them. It gives me the willies to even type about it.

I'll be honest: when I saw this, I thought about not crossing. I didn't have to get food. I mean, I'm wasn't that hungry, and the spiders would be gone by the morning. But then I realized I was being ridiculous (sort of). I'm in a combat zone, and I'm afraid of spiders. So I crossed it, and have now dubbed it the "Bridge of Fear."

For good measure, I went to the PX today, and bought some spider spray. Well, it's actually called "Bug Stop," but it promises to kill many things, including spiders, "on contact." I read the directions, and plan to protect my room for "up to 9 months" with a treatment. I have to wait until tomorrow to spray the whole room, since it has to air out, but for good measure, I covered the front steps in front of my trailer, and the door frame. At least they can't enter by the front door tonight.

Man... rockets, mortars and heat are one thing. Spiders are another.

Back to Blogging

I haven't written anything in a while for two reasons: first, the Army has come out with new guidelines on blogging. Well, the guidelines aren't exactly new, but they are clarifying them. I wanted to make sure I was ok to blog, so I had our HHC Commander approve it, per the guidelines. He looked at it, and gave me the thumbs up.

The second reason, though, is that the Internet connection in my room has been terrible lately. I'm not sure why... if there is more dust, or if the heat interferes with the signal, but it's simply been very slow, and I've been unable to connect to Blogger. I could access it from my office, but, I think I should be blogging on my "own" time and not at the office.

So... I'm back up and running now. What's new? Well, it's getting hot. We've been seeing temperatures between 100 and 110 degrees. I've got the indoor/outdoor thermometer in my room, and it has been pretty accurate. At night, it gets into the lower 80s.

105 degrees doesn't feel too bad here, because it's dry, but I feel like my forehead is constantly wet. Other than that, it's much more preferable to 90 degrees and humid, like back in the Midwest.

Chapel services continue to have excellent attendance. At my Sunday evening service, I have been preaching through a sermon series on the basics of the Christian faith. When I finish this series, I plan to begin a new sermon series focused on Revelation 1-3, the messages to the churches, and how they apply to us.

Keep the Soldiers in your prayers. Most of you have seen that the media has been covering the 3 Soldiers who are missing in action, and from what I've read in the news, apparently Al Qaeda claims to have them. Pray for strength and safety for them, and pray that our Soldiers will be safely rescued.

And, last but not least, Happy Mother's Day to my Wife, my Mom, and my Mother-in-Law!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

CAV Spirit

Here is my devotional from today's Battle Update Assessment:

"If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning." C. S. Lewis

People often speak of their searching for meaning. Some people will say “all things happen for a purpose.” Others will look for patterns and meaning from a scientific or natural perspective.

But we all seem to be searching for meaning. In a combat zone, separated from our families, and unsure of when we’ll return, this search for meaning is even more important.

In today’s quote, C.S. Lewis makes a comparison. He says that if there was no light, we wouldn’t have eyes and we wouldn’t look for it. We wouldn’t know it was dark. Likewise, the search for meaning in our lives happens because there is meaning. Our spirits search for meaning not in a vain quest, but to fulfill the very real purpose for which we were created.

That purpose is to know God. More than anything, we are spiritual beings, created in the likeness of God, and life is not truly fulfilled or complete without Him. The key is that we cannot find God on our own. Therefore, God has come to us, not because we deserve it, but because of his grace. In Jesus Christ, God has made himself known. In Him, God has shown us our true purpose and meaning. We are called to be in relationship with Him and in Him we find this meaning.