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.