Three Weeks In

It’s been almost three weeks since arriving in Afghanistan. It’s been very interesting so far. We are over a mile above sea level in Kabul, with mountains all around. The air here is thick with pollutants, making the view of the taller, distant mountains sometimes impossible. The temperatures are not too bad, highs in the low 90’s, lows in the mid 60’s. I know that will change as winter approaches, I’ve been told to expect to see snow.

I know it’s early in the deployment, but it’s hard to not compare being here to my previous deployment to Iraq. Obviously, while I make comparisons between the two in the blog, I’ll be leaving out quite a bit of what it’s like here. Shhhh! It’s a secret.

First of all, when I went to Iraq, the Religious Support Team we were replacing met us at the helicopter pad and was happy to see us. They couldn’t wait for us to get there so they could go home. Quite the opposite a few weeks ago. Someone neglected to tell anyone here that we were coming. Probably because we weren’t replacing anybody. But, none the less, we showed up, without a job and without a place to do that job. We have since integrated ourselves into the overall mission, found things to do, and as it turns out, have some busy times and lots of travel ahead of us. But in the beginning, it was a fight to stay in the fight. We’re still fighting for a desk, but at least we have a job.

Secondly, when I was in Iraq I only got to go on one mission outside the wire. I had a good deployment, worked hard, and was successful in what I did, but it was boring. I’m very proud of he job I did, but I longed to see the outside world where I was at. But that wasn’t in my job description at the time. So far here, I’ve left the compound a number of times already. I got to experience traffic here. I got to see people walking up and down the streets. I could see their shops, their supermarkets, the business of life in this capital city. My only interaction with any of the local population are the ones that work on the compound. They seem happy to have jobs, even if it is picking up trash, cleaning the restrooms, or working in the kitchen.

I’ll close with one thing that is the same from then to now. We will do our job, whatever is asked of us. We will complete the mission, no matter how hard it is. We will be successful, no matter what happens after we leave. We will be proud that we did our part when we were called upon.

Good day and God bless.

Dave

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A Day and a Half in Kyrgystan

As we left Fort Hood we knew it would be a long day. It ended up being a long two days of travel. From Fort Hood we flew to North Carolina, then on to Maine before going on the long flight across the Atlantic. We stopped in Germany to refuel and then off to Manas in Kyrgyzstan where we had, for the most part, a day and a half of down time before leaving for Afghanistan.

Manas is a good transient base. It has most of the things someone would want for a day or two layover. After lunch the first day there, I was walking with a couple of my fellow soldiers and looking around at what the base had to offer. The three of us stopped in the chapel to check it out. While there one of them said we should pray, specifically about the A/C not working in their tent. For just a split second I thought to myself, “We’re on way to war and you want to pray about the A/C?” But that’s what was important at that moment, so I led us in prayer. I added parts about keeping us safe on the mission and stuff like that.

But this reminded me of when I went to India in 2005 on a mission trip with three other guys from church. Leading up to that trip I prayed about some things. Of course I mentioned safe travels, that we’d be well received when we got there, and that the trip would be successful not only to us, but in God’s eyes. But most of what I remember praying for was that the airline wouldn’t lose my luggage on the way there and that there would be food to my liking for the 10 days we would be out of the United States. I would need clean underwear, right? And I’m a picky eater. These two requests were important to me.

We traveled around, visiting and speaking at churches in little villages. At each church, at the end of the sermon it was their custom for the visiting missionaries to pray over each person that wanted it. They formed four lines, one for each of us, and one by one made their requests through a translator. Most everyone asked for food, money, or someone in their family to be healed. The areas we visited were some of the poorest people I’ve ever seen, many of them sick from malnutrition and various other ailments from a lack of medical services.

But this one girl blew me away with her request. She must have been somewhere between twelve and fourteen years old, wearing a purple dress. She had a confident smile and beautiful eyes. As she walked up I could tell she had a joy about her. To me, these people, being as poor and sick as they are, have every right to ask God for food and health, and even some money to get by on. She didn’t ask for us to pray for her family’s health, or money to buy food with. She asked us to pray on her behalf to receive wisdom to understand God’s word better.

That was a turning point for me on that trip. I felt ashamed that I had asked for things so petty and missed the big picture. It was ok to have asked for the airline to not lose my luggage and to have food that I liked. But that had been my focus. While I was doing work to make the lives of others better, I was still focused on me and not on the work to be done. I learned a great lesson on that trip. And from a young lady no less. Turns out, at least in my opinion, the one asking for wisdom was more wise than one being asked to pray for it for her.

Check this out. My luggage made it to India just fine. The food was wonderful. But on the way home, as I flew from Chennai to London, then back to the states, my bag went to France. I truly believe God has a sense of humor. It was three days later that my bag showed up. And in that, He was telling me it was ok to have prayed for something as trivial as my luggage, but don’t miss out on seeing the whole picture. I have to remind myself of that from time to time, that’s why I share this story.

Pray for us as we begin our mission in Afghanistan. Good day and God bless.

Dave

Remember the Alamo!

It’s been a year since I got the call. I actually got two phone calls. Both from people I previously served with in the Reserves asking if I’d rejoin them for a deployment as a chaplain assistant on their Unit Ministry Team. It was a couple of weeks of thought, prayer, and discussion (mostly with my wife) before I decided to say yes. Of course, it was my wife’s blessings on the matter that made my decision. I was surprised when she told me I should do it. She told me she knew I wanted to; that the reason I came back in the military was to serve; and she pointed out that they did call me. Any chaplain assistant can do that job, but it did feel good being hand-picked.

In the last year, I have been training and going to schools to learn how to do my job better. I have also been getting to know my team better and getting to know the other soldiers I’ll be deploying with in my unit. I’ve been adjusting to changes. Not just the changes for getting ready for deployment, but in the mission itself. I think my mission has changed three times. Those of you familiar with the military know how common change is, it’s really the only constant we have sometimes. But those of you who know me, know I resist change once I’ve settled into whatever it is I need to do. It’s been a struggle, but it’s been a great learning experience.

As with my last deployment, there is a four-day pass. And as with my last deployment I am spending it with my wife, this time in San Antonio instead of New York City. The kids are at my mother’s house. I opted to not have to say goodbye to the kids a second time in less than two months. It’s protecting me more than it is them, emotionally speaking. I think they adjust well, partly because they don’t fully understand the magnitude of this. Not that I understand it, but I grasp the concept of the seriousness of going to war, and all the different things that can happen.

While on pass in San Antonio, my wife and I visited the Alamo, a very important place in the fight for the independence of Texas in 1836. What an awesome and historic place to be standing at. We toured the grounds and buildings. We read much about it’s history, some of which I remember from school books, some I learned for the first time. There were antique pistols, rifles, swords, clothes, dishes, eyeglasses, and so much more. Much of which was there at the Alamo, belonging to the men who died there. I do love this kind of stuff, to be that close to history that you can almost touch it. And I did break the rule of not touching the walls by running my fingers along it for a second. Not to be a rebel, but to touch history.

The thing that caught my attention the most at the Alamo was a letter written by the commander of the Alamo, William Barrett Travis on February 24, 1836. It became know as the Travis letter. He addressed the letter: “To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World-” He wrote that he and his men were outnumbered by the Mexican army led by Santa Anna and that he answered their demand of surrender with a cannon-shot. He wrote that he would never surrender or retreat. He was looking for help, but also wrote: “If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country- Victory or Death.”

This moved me. It stirred my soul to read those words and realize I was standing right there, where brave men fought to the death for what they knew was right and just. And not only men from Texas fought and died at the Alamo. There were men from all over what was still a young America and men from other countries that had come to help Texas in their Independence. It would appear that in the days leading up to the fall of the Alamo, these men knew they were going to die defending what they believed. And they all stayed. And they all fought. And they all died.

We are still of that mindset today. We are fighting battles for the independence of others, sacrificing for what we know to be right and just. I know without a doubt that the men and women I’m going to Afghanistan with have the same determination and honor as the soldiers at the Alamo 177 years ago. The uniforms and weaponry are different, but the heart and spirit of a soldier have never changed. Our heart gives us strength to never surrender or retreat and our spirit gives us confidence when we only have two choices- Victory or Death.

Remember the Alamo! Good day and God bless.

Dave