23 October 2007

DIGIJOURNAL 029--22 OCT 2007



I just finished my morning PT (Physical Training), which includes a couple of laps around the patrol base. I had been running on a treadmill, but most of those are now out of service. It is better to run outside anyway. During my second lap, two helicopters came in, and the sunrise painted the Blackhawks a pleasant orange and red. It is not all ugliness over here. My run is more like a steeple chase. Instead of jumping over hurdles and through water, I try to avoid the ponds of moon dust, piles of ankle-spraining rocks, and various tanker trucks cleaning out the latrines. Despite all this, running in morning over here is my favorite time of the day. I think of how Christ used to spend time alone in the morning praying and thinking about his upcoming day. No matter what mood I am in, the sunrise always makes me smile.

U2’s “City of Blinding Lights” came up on my playlist while I circled our little piece of America. I first heard this song when I was jogging at LSA Anaconda, waiting for my return flight to the States after my first deployment. The song, for me, has come to represent the bittersweet feelings of coming home. We have a memorial wall in our chapel that has the pictures and bios of all the soldiers we have lost. I was speaking with one of our soldiers about the date, April 8th, when 1LT N died. It was Easter morning. I am very happy to be coming home, but not completely happy. Some folks are not coming home with us.

Sports leagues are sprouting up all over the patrol bases in an effort to fight boredom. C Company had a very robust flag/tackle football league, complete with jerseys, a playoff, trophies, and an all-pro game. The guys at Paliwoda have either taken to the basketball court to play combat hoops (no blood or compound fracture, no foul) or our lighted volleyball court. I never thought infantryman would take their volleyball so seriously.

I am off to play some basketball. Hope you all have a blessed week.

DIGIJOURNAL 028--21 OCT 2007


A few observations before signing off for the day…

  • While at Paliwoda, which I affectionately call Camp Polliwog, my chaplain assistant and I share a room split only by a half-completed wall. As I write this, I hear whatever techno band he is listening to at the moment blasting through his headphones as he cleans his M9 pistol and his M4 rifle. The harsh metallic clangs made by a sliding rifle bolt or the charging of a pistol are the only sounds that interrupt the dull pulse of music. I have just finished my evening service, where we looked at Psalm 65 and talked about the inner joy that Christians should have because of God’s grace. I am struck by how much of what I do (or, I hope, what God does through me) depends upon that pistol and that rifle. No matter what opinion I might have about combat or what complex theological ruminations I have concerning war, my life depends upon the training, skill, and discipline of a 21-year-old from Efrata, Pennsylvania.
  • When I am out on a patrol, some soldiers marvel at my “courage” because I do not carry a weapon (per Army regulation). I would be kidding myself if I claimed courage. It is not courage. Instead, my willingness to venture out of the FOBs with the troops, even without a weapon, is one part ignorance, one part stupidity combined with four parts of the tactical competence of our soldiers, many of whom cannot legally drink and are barely old enough to vote. When I am out in sector, which is much rarer for me than it is for the majority of our troopers, I do not think about my death or other impending threat. In fact, I try not to think of anything that serious at all. I just look for changes and things out of the ordinary that might signal that the enemy is going to try to do something. If ever I am afraid (reminding everyone that I am the “ignorance is bliss” chaplain not the John Wayne-swagger soldier), I find immediate comfort in the number of soldiers around me, their personal courage, their readiness for a fight, and the quantity of weapons systems the average infantry squad employs.
  • At any given moment, I think it is realistic, and perhaps a little generous, for me to expect that 25% of the soldiers know and like me, 25% have no use for me, and 50% do not even have me on their radar. I wish I could think of myself as the “beloved chaplain,” but it is just not true. And it is not false modesty but rather a realistic assessment of what our soldiers deserve and what limited offerings I bring to the table that allow me to accept this honest vision. What I do know and take comfort in is that 100% of our soldiers do not want to be that unit that loses its mascot to the opposing team. Whatever they think of me, they do not want to be embarrassed by my wounding or worse.
  • 42 more days, 4 hours, 40 minutes, and 32 seconds and a bunch of mal-adjusted, cowardly, hateful theocrats are all that stands between us and home, but who is counting and who is bitter?

We thank you for your support and your prayers and the time you take to read these grammatically incorrect and misspelled screeds. God bless you all.

DIGIJOURNAL 027--19 OCT 2007



I am sorry that I have not posted an entry in almost two months. CPL C and I have traveled across our area of operations giving redeployment briefs. Most of the battalion hit the one-year-in-country mark in early October. Additionally, the loss of two soldiers in September sent many of us into a funk. I think we all, at some level, are suffering from emotional fatigue. In the days ahead, I will try to get in a few more updates chronicling what it is like getting ready to redeploy. For brevity’s sake, I will use the bullet-comment format to share with you some of my observations. Here are some (in no particular order):

  • As we start to prepare to return home, time has slowed. I feel like I am back in my college physics class. I have a countdown clock on my computer desktop, but it never seems to move. I have finally taken the advice of one of our soldiers to stop counting, for it only seems to make it worse.
  • There has been much talk about the declining standards of new recruits coming into the Army. Statistically, standards may have dropped, but we are still seeing high-quality Americans joining the Army. One of the soldiers killed in early September was a 19-year-old Specialist, had just arrived to the unit, was full of enthusiasm, was highly-trained, and volunteered to go out on missions, including the one resulting in his death. Personally, I have lost patience with the crowd who doubts the professionalism of our troops. I would argue that we are the best- trained, the most moral, and have exercised the greatest amount of restraint towards non-combatants than any other Army in our history. I have concluded my redeployment briefs with the comment of how great our soldiers are. Despite all the hardships my family and I have endured during this deployment, being able to associate and serve our men and women in uniform has made any sacrifice worth it.
  • Another hot topic on editorial pages has been the lack of service on behalf of the sons and daughters of our country’s educational, economic, and political elite. I think, for one, that this statistic is inflated. I have met several officers and enlisted who come from what many would call the upper middle class. However, I agree that, despite this, the service of the sons and daughters of our Brahmin class is proportionately under-represented. The most popular solution to this problem is to reinstate the draft. Make no mistake about this: most of those who want to reinstate the draft do not want to improve the military, but instead they want to create enough chaos within the military to end the war. Those in power will be able to get deferments; they always have and always will. I would much rather have someone who wants to be fighting on my left and my right flank than someone who was forced to be there. Critics complain that the leadership of the military is out of touch with our civilian elite. What they do not consider is that our civilian elite might be out of touch with who the military still represents: the American people. The problem might be with the people who have the time and money to get elected to high office. Maybe our own voting habits, when combined with a desire for entertainment and to get as many benefits from the government as possible, have given us the government we deserve. I am not a Republican or a Democrat, and I subscribe to the old-school belief that officers should not vote in elections since they serve on behalf of the electorate. I do not have a dog in this fight. I do have a love for the military, not as an organization but for the people who serve. I believe with all my heart that our service men and women really are the best our country has to offer. All I ask of our political leadership, Republican, Democrat, or Independent, is let us serve without trying to score political points off our service, be they positive or negative. Hold us accountable, criticize us when we need it, be skeptical of military power grown too elite, or corrupt, or self-centered, but do not impugn our character. You did that to us in the seventies, and we have a long memory. We will not stand by and let you do it to us again.
  • The last point has to do with your continued support. October 15th will be the last day you can send mail to us. If you send things to us after this date, it might get returned. Many have asked if they could send items to my replacement. I think that will be possible, but I do not know who he is or when he will arrive. I will publish that info as soon as he gets here. I will also attempt to keep the thank you notes coming and the gift list updated, but, as we approach our redeployment date, tracking all these things will be difficult. Please know that what you send is greatly appreciated and has been used to make our soldiers’ lives brighter and the Iraqi’s lives better.

I am off to write my sermon. God bless you all.