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, June 30, 2007

The University of Baghdad

Here are a couple of pictures of the University of Baghdad. They aren't very clear, but in the top one, you might be able to see a tall structure in the middle of the picture. At the top of this it says "University of Baghdad." I have flown close enough to read the words, but we're too far away in these pictures to even be close to reading it.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Things You See From The Air...

Last night as we were flying across town, we took a sharp bank at one point, and I was looking straight down at.... a guy moving his sprinkler across the lawn.

As I saw it, my first thought was "Hmm.... how odd." Why is it odd? I don't know. It's just strange the normalcy of how much of what I see on the streets of Baghdad from the air.

We fly low enough to see things like what the guy in his yard is doing, or which kid is kicking the soccer ball on the field, or looking at the various people walking around the streets or to the market.

Interesting. A guy watering his yard.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

We're Gonna Try

This picture was taken from the air last night. As you can see, it was hard to see anything. In fact, if I didn't tell you this was taken from a helicopter, you might never even guess I was up in the air.

It was bad weather yesterday. As we were getting ready to take off, I was speaking to one of the crew, and I asked "Do you think we'll be able to fly in this weather?" His response was "We're gonna try!"

Hmm... and his statement didn't bother me. I guess that's the faith thing. It worked out fine (obviously, since I'm writing this). The men and women flying our helicopters are incredibly professional and do an amazing job. I personally really appreciate them.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My Faith in Iraq

In my last post, I spoke a little about what I’ve learned from deployment. An even greater effect, however, has been on my faith.

I want to preface my words, though, by referring to an article I read a while back about chaplains in Iraq. It was Newsweek, I think, and to be fair, I’m sharing my memory of the article, and not quoting it. Anyway, the article seemed to focus more on the loss of faith by a chaplain or two, than on what I believe happens to most chaplains.

My experience is that my faith has grown stronger than it was when I arrived. That isn’t to say my faith wasn’t strong to begin with, but it has been molded and shaped, and God has made Himself manifest in the ministry here. I have a greater sense of peace with God, a deeper trust in His ways, and a heightened urgency to love the people around me.

I can’t point to one event, or even a series of events that has changed me, but it’s more of a gradual awareness of an increased presence of His activity in my life.

I feel it especially in worship on Sundays. I have always enjoyed worship. However, the atmosphere of a combat zone has made Sunday stand out in a way that it has not in the past. It feels like the pinnacle of my week. Seeing the faces of people who come to the chapel seems to energize me, and as we worship, I have a deep sense of the Spirit’s moving.

Seeing the people of my church has always been one of the greatest highlights of worship, whether back home or here. It’s kind of like a weekly homecoming. But in a combat zone- for me at least- it takes on an added sense of urgency. As our chapel attendance has grown over the past six months, the faces have not always stayed the same. In the military, people are often on the move. For example: for a long time, the front row of my chapel service always had two Air Force NCOs, who greeted me each week with a joyful “Hey, Preacher!” They have since redeployed. Also, there was a civilian contractor who was a faithful attendee and has now moved back to the States to pursue full time missionary work. And the list goes on… people arriving into theater, people redeploying home, people leaving for R&R.

So… the sense of a homecoming that I have every Sunday at church back in the States is no different, but here there is the uncertainty as to who will still be here next week. This added sense of urgency deepens my joy at being in worship. I see it in the people who come to chapel as well, as many of them are eager to bring others along.

In the midst of the violence and all of the terrible things happening here, I need people to know that there are those of us who are growing deeper in our faith, and seeing God at work!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I think I've learned two things...

I'm getting down to the last "months" of my deployment. As many of you know, we can't ever talk in a non-secure form of communication about dates of movement (such as leaving for Iraq, or coming home, etc.). It's for operational security purposes. So... suffice it to say that my time is no longer measured by "next year." I think in months at this point.

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about how my deployment to Iraq has changed me, how I've grown, how I've been stressed or strained, and what I'll take away from it. More of that in another post.

But there are two things I think I've learned:

The first is the realization that this very question no longer has the focus it used to have. I came into this deployment wondering what I would learn. I guess I've realized that none of this is about me, and my greater concern now is wondering what impact I've had. I could spend pages writing about that, and I won't, but I'll simply say that God has shown me that most of us, including me, spend far too much time thinking about what it all means for us, and not what we mean for all of it.

It's about humility. Many of you have heard this stated in various ways, but the truth about humility is this: humility is ceasing to make the comparisons. Humility isn't about being modest, just like it's not about being arrogant! Humility is ceasing to feel the need to make the comparison.

The second thing I've learned is that we Christians don't always practice what we preach in the most important area of faith: love. As a Christian, I'm sad to say that we're not always a very loving bunch. I wish I could put that differently.

I speak from my actions and my experiences. I've got the doctrine and the theology down pat. Well, I think I do, at least. I know the Bible, and I can quote chapter and verse in much of it. That's foundational to our faith! I'm just not sure I've got the loving part down like Jesus expects.

I believe this is the greatest weakness in God's people, and yet it's the very area that Jesus focused on so clearly. The most important commandment? Love God, love your neighbor. And we're not talking cheap grace love. We're talking about deep, abiding and unceasing love.

Do I really reflect Christ in that respect?

How many of us do?

And yet this is one of the areas of our faith which is NOT optional. For example, John wrote this in the New Testament: "Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him." (1 John 4:8-9)

I think about this today because I was emailing with another chaplain. He had asked about the growth of our chapel service (the attendance has quadrupled in 6 months). I answered with a thorough analysis of the worship style, the format, and the preaching style.

But I think I missed the big reason: people love each other and the Word is proclaimed. I wanted to make the growth something that had to do with the band or the preaching, but the reality is that when we do those "well," all we're really doing is getting out of the way for God to do his work.

So often we Christians are more interested in building our own kingdoms, and we miss the foundational call to just love each other.

Now... why did I have to go to Iraq to learn that. Hmm. God is funny that way.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Spiritual High

Last night we had a great time of worship. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I preach each week at the Sunday evening contemporary service at our chapel.

At the service last night we had our highest attendance yet. Not that attendance is everything, but.... certainly it's better to see more people in worship than not. Even more awesome was that there was a real sense of unity in the Spirit last night. When I took prayer requests for the time of prayer there were far more requests than usual (each week I will ask for prayer requests, and write them on my notepad as people make their requests, and then we have a time of prayer). There were some people asking for prayers for very serious issues, and there were also people offering up prayers of thanksgiving for answered prayers. It was a very cool time. The Spirit was moving last night!

I'm preaching through Jesus' letters (via John) to the seven churches in Revelation. Last night we looked at Smyrna, and the issue of perseverance/endurance. Spiritual fatigue is an issue for Soldiers (as well as civilians serving over here).

God uses time of suffering or difficulty in our lives to mold us. It's not that God causes these tests or trials- but He uses our own frailty, our mistakes, and our conflicts to make us stronger and to cause us to trust Him more deeply. (Think Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.")

In a combat zone, I believe there are two general spiritual reactions that a person can have. The first is to begin to lose faith in the midst of fear, discouragement, physical and emotional fatigue and everything else we experience here. The second possible reaction- the good one- is that in the midst of the trials and tribulation, spiritual endurance and a deeper faith is built.

It's not easy being over here. But God works some really amazing things in the lives of those with ears to hear what He is saying to them.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Minnesota National Guard- Star Tribune

Here is a link to a thought provoking article from Nick Coleman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the need to seriously support returning Soldiers. As many of you know, the Minnesota National Guard has had Soldiers mobilized for 22 straight months- 16 of those months in Iraq.

Mr. Coleman and I might disagree about the need for the war in Iraq- I don't know- and I don't agree with everything he writes in the article, but the core point is that we need to ensure that Soldiers are taken care of.

This brings me back to what I wrote about the other day: what about the effect of multiple tours? I believe we need to look at seriously enlarging the size of the Army in order to continue this current war- if it continues.

On another note: there are a lot of resources available to returning Soldiers. In my Army Reserve RRC, for example, the Chaplain's Office organizes family retreats, married couple retreats, and single Soldier retreats. All of these are paid for- so there is no expense to the Soldier- and they get paid while there. I believe similar retreats are done throughout other RRCs as well. Another excellent resource is Military One Source (, which is sort of an all encompassing help "desk" online for Soldiers and their families. For example, when a Soldier is deployed, a family members can contact (by phone or email) Military One Source for help with just about anything. Military One Source will arrange for free counseling for familiy members, as one resource. This is especially valuable for members of the Guard and Reserve who are not on military installations, and don't have resources readily available in the same way as the active duty.

The challenge is not only to continue to get the word out about these resources, but to step them up, and find ways to reduce the burden on Soldiers from a multiple deployment perspective as well.

Connections to Home

I was talking to one of the Majors working in our building today, and found out he is an alumnus of the University of Wisconsin, as am I. He had graduated a year before I started, but it was fun to reminisce about Madison with a fellow Badger.

Then later today I got an email talking about VBS at our church, which is always one of the best times of year. It made me smile to think of all the kids running around and learning about Jesus!

And it reminded me that it's little remembrances of home which are so important over here. Part of it is to remind me of what we're fighting for. I know this war is an abstraction for most Americans; it's hard to conceive of a war on "terror." That's partially due to the beauty of what we're fighting to protect: a safe secure homeland, where people of different races, religions and politics can live in peace. We take if for granted that our kids can go to VBS without harassment.

Our success, as Americans, in finding peace at home blurs our ability to see evil and understand what we're fighting. I've explained- in this last week- that I'm worried about our ability to sustain this fight without a larger Army. But do we, as a nation, see clearly enough the need for this war to end successfully? Do we see it clearly enough to do what it takes to prevail?

I can't answer that. My job is to minister to the guys and gals over here. Tomorrow at Chapel we'll be looking at Jesus' words to the Church at Smyrna in Revelation Ch. 2. He spoke about enduring the testing of Satan, saying "Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer." The early Christians understood the reality of evil. Our calling is also to maintain our faith in the midst of trials and testing from Satan. Jesus called the church at Smyrna rich, even though they were poor. I fear that we may rely too much on our own riches and yet neglect our spiritual poverty because we're comfortable! The Church at Smyrna was one of two churches that Jesus only spoke about in positive terms. Are we more like Smyrna, or more like Laodicea, and its lukewarm attitude?

Friday, June 22, 2007

The All-Volunteer Army

"PAGGS" commented on my last post and referred our Army as an all volunteer Army. That's true, and is something most Officers will tell you is a good thing. The reality is that volunteers will simply perform better, and that is what any command wants.

However, there is another reality to the situation of many Soldiers in Iraq. First of all, many Soldiers are being "stop loss-ed." That means that their contract is due to expire at a certain time, and they plan to retire or get out. But the unit they are with is going to mobilize, so at a certain point before the deployment, a "stop-loss" is placed on the members of that unit, preventing their retirement. Thus, they are kept on active duty longer than they signed up for in the first place.

In addition, "rules" for the National Guard and Reserve have changed. For most of the war, the National Guard and Reserve were told they could only be mobilized for a total of 24 months. That is total, and not consecutive. Therefore, if you were deployed for 18 months, you could have a sense that you would only have another 6 months if you got deployed again. It gives the members of the Guard and Reserve a sense of control- and allows them to effectively pursue their civilian careers.

That changed in January.

There is no longer a limit, and a Reserve Soldier who has been deployed away from home for 15 months can be redeployed, for example, for another 15 months not that long after he/she gets home.

The Army recently changed active duty deployments from 12 to "up to" 15 months, at the same time that a study of combat stress study said the greatest factor for mental health issues was the length of deployments. The Marines typically deploy for 7 months, btw.

Now, according to the article I linked to, the length of deployments may increase again, and the Guard and Reserve may be used even more (is that possible?)

PAGGS also mentioned I want to avoid politics. I do. I can't make political suggestions on here. However, I can point out that no one has a solution. I haven't seen one politician running for President who offers any kind of workable solution.

One political party has candidates essentially saying "let's just keep doing what we're doing." Another political party has candidates essentially saying "let's totally stop what we're doing." (yes, I'm oversimplifying them both)

We need to take care of Soldiers. This current pace of operations combined with a small all-volunteer Army will not do that.

Part of what having an "all-volunteer" Army does is allows political cover. Politicians can say "well, they all signed up for this." But as the lengths and rules of deployment change, that saying becomes less true. And we recently had a US Senator suggest, twice recently, that we attack Iran.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Longer Tours? Larger Army?

Today marks 10 months in theater for me. I've been deployed now for more than one year total.

Thus, it is with a little anxiety and a great deal of concern that I read the following article on the website:,13319,139702,00.html?

Essentially the article details the possibility of extending, again, the active duty Soldiers currently serving in Iraq (I'm an activated Reservist, btw, and not active duty). Those active duty Soldiers here have already been extended once, from 12 months to 15 months, and I'm not sure what another extension would entail time wise.

I'm concerned about this. I want to make it very clear that my concern should not be interpreted as either pro-Republican or pro-Democrat. I'm also not suggesting any political courses of actions.

But I do think we need a larger Army. A much larger Army.

I'll let other people debate why and how we got into Iraq, and how long we should stay here. Personally, I think we can do much more good by staying here in Iraq rather than leaving now.

However, we must realize that compared to other wars over the past 200 years, this current war in Iraq is not a major war. Regardless of whether we stay in Iraq or not, this war should have us wondering about the overall size of our Army. We are deploying our active duty folks for 15 months at a time, with, theoretically, 12 months at home before another deployment.

And this is a small war. Statistically, it is a small war. (compare the number of deployed Soldiers, as well as the number of KIAs to Vietnam, Korea, or World War 2, and you get the point)

Iraq is a relatively small nation, of around 25 million people.

Our nation's population is about 300 million people. The active duty Army is around 500,000. 1% of our population would give us a 3 million person Army, so I suppose 500,000 means that 1/6th of 1% of our nation is in the active duty Army. Add in the Reserve and Guard and you're still looking at less than 1/3rd of 1%. Only .3% of our nation is in the Army, Active, Reserve or Guard.

The Army, along with the Marines (which is a much smaller Corps), is bearing the brunt of this war. Another way of looking at it is this: 99.7% of the people in this nation have no chance whatsoever of ever fighting in this conflict.

That won't work. God forbid we end up in a larger conflict. What China attacks Taiwan? We have promised to defend Taiwan.

This isn't about the pro's or con's of this current war. It's about the strain these two minor wars are placing on our military. You simply cannot have an all volunteer Army as small as ours is, and be the world policeman. You cannot continue to deploy active duty Soldiers every other year, and deploy Reserve and Guard members almost as frequently, and expect people to stay in the military.

When some of the members of the Minnesota National Guard return later this year, they will have been away from home for 22 months straight. That will hurt retention.

The only proposals I've seen have been to increase the Army by something like 40,000 or so Soldiers. I know GEN Casey has spoken about the need to increase the size by more than that. I'm not sure if anyone (politically) is listening. But we'd better start listening.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Opening Up The Oven Door

It's hot here- as usual. But there 's something about when the wind blows here that is amazing: it doesn't cool you down. When the wind is blowing on you, it feels like you have a hair dryer blowing on your face, or it feels like that rush of hot air when you open the oven door when it's cooking.

You do adapt to the heat, though. I sweat when I'm outside, obviously, but not as much as I probably would have last year. And you begin to feel more comfortable in warmer temperatures. 115 degrees is warm no matter what, but it doesn't feel quite as uncomfortable as it would if I had just arrived here.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Memorials and Uniforms

Last night I went to Rustamiyah for a memorial ceremony. I’ve been to many of them lately.

During the ceremony, the National Anthem is always played at the beginning. Last night, something strange happened. As I was standing at attention, listening to the anthem, suddenly I was thinking about being at an Iowa Stars hockey game, listening to the National Anthem. I’m not sure why my mind drifted; it was probably because the anthem was being sung by a singer last night, as opposed to an instrumental version being played over the speaker system.

But I drifted away for a little bit, and thought about the joy of being at a hockey game, and then thought about how the Anthem will always mean something a little different to me after this year.

Then, I snapped back to Baghdad, and I was at the memorial again.

I don’t think this is completely uncommon. I believe many of the Soldiers over here will drift off and think about home, about what people back home are doing, about the things we want to do when we get home, and that sort of thing. It kind of keeps us grounded in reality.


On another note, a couple people asked about the placement of the cross on my uniform. It IS there… it is above my name tape, over the left part of my chest. I have seen some chaplains wearing the cross at the place in which my rank is located (only on their body armor, though), and then they put the rank below the cross, but the correct wear of the uniform is to wear the rank in the middle of the chest, and then the cross goes over your name. In my regular uniform, my name is on the right side of my chest, and the cross is placed over the name tape on the right side of my chest. That is the standard.

As for the heat; yeah, it’s hot. Around 110-115 yesterday. But I’m not running around the streets kicking in doors, so I can’t complain! Our men and women running around all day in gear really have to struggle with the heat.

Truth be told, though, I don’t sweat as much here as back in the Midwest. It just isn’t humid most days. Every once in a while we’ll get some humidity, and then it’s miserable.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The correct answer to the uniform quiz? The Flag was on the wrong arm! Raven got it correct, as did Dan (Raven's answer was submitted a little before Dan's, but they both posted at the same time, so it's kind of a tie). The picture above was taken later that night, and is the CORRECT uniform.

Here is what happened: over my upper arms are kevlar sleeves. I usually don't wear them when I fly, but only when I travel by ground. But after talking to a friend who flys, I realized that a bullet coming in through the side (you can see that the windows are NOT in place, so I'm sitting next to nothing) was not all that out of the realm of possibility. So I tried wearing them again for this flight. Each arm piece is removable. On the left arm, my unit patch should go; as you can see above, I have the 1st CAV Division patch. On my right arm should be the American flag. The actual flag I had is the correct size, standard issue, etc., but I accidentally put it on the wrong arm.

So, as we sat in the helicopter getting ready to fly back, I noticed. It was a little cumbersome, but I was able to switch the patches (they are velcro). I took the flag off and put it on the right arm, which is the right side, and I put the 1st CAV patch back on my left arm, where it was supposed to be. I wanted to make sure it was correct, just in case out Deputy Commanding General happened to look at my arms as we got off the helicopter!

Also, the yellow thing dangling in the front of my uniform is my earplugs holder. So that is correct.

Finally, being a Badger fan is always the correct uniform. Gophers fans are actually forbidden from flying our Blackhawks. It goes back to the long standing tradition of never retreating! Hawkeyes fans are allowed to even look at the helicopters, by the way...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Uniform Quiz

Here's a picture of me sitting in a helicopter a couple of days ago. It was blazing hot and we were waiting to take off.
If you look at my uniform, there is something blatantly wrong, that I didn't notice until later. Can anyone figure out what the problem is? The first one to figure it out wins nothing but the pride of attention to detail.

Saturday, June 09, 2007


Here are a three quotes from President Theodore Roosevelt that I think apply to our current situation in Iraq:

"The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life. "


"The boy who is going to make a great man must not make up his mind merely to overcome a thousand obstacles, but to win in spite of a thousand repulses and defeats."


"It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things."

It is worth noting that after the Spanish-American War, in which Roosevelt fought, there was a protracted insurgency in the Philippines. It took years for us to put it down. Roosevelt knew a little bit about courage, perseverance and finishing the job!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Flying Around

My internet has been acting up the last few days, so I haven't had a chance to post.

I flew on missions both of the last two days- once to Baquoba in the Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, and then to the southern part of Baghdad. Diyala is the area that has been quite volatile lately, with insurgents fleeing the surge. However, the surge has seen success in the areas in which the troops have arrived, so I assume the same will soon be true of Diyala. I have included a couple of pictures from the air.