Jonathan and His Armor Bearer

In 2007 I ended a fourteen year break in military service by joining the Army Reserves. I specifically came back in to be a chaplain assistant. I know I was older and not is as good of shape as I was when I got out the first time, but I would fix that, at least the not being in shape part. And since I never mastered acting my age anyway, I always feel younger than I really am, so I got that covered, too.

The first unit I was put in when I came back was the 787th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion in Dothan, AL. The unit was deployed when I got there so it was a skeleton crew, per se. They didn’t have a chaplain when I got there. But a few months later I met Chaplain “Mac” when he got assigned there. We worked together for a while before I was cross-leveled to another unit for deployment to Iraq. A year later I came back and we worked together until some time in 2010 when it was time for me to move on. I needed a unit closer to home and also one that I could advance in rank.

As I left, CH Mac expressed his gratefulness to me for my service while there, shook my hand, and told me that if he ever deploys he was going to call me to go with him. CH Mac and I had a great working relationship and got along very well. But I always thought the words he spoke to me about calling me back if he deployed were just something nice you say to someone when you part ways. Never did I think he’d really call me. In 2012 he called me for a deployment for the following year.

In a recent conversation we had on one of the missions we’ve gone on, we talked about that. I told him I remember what he said but that I never thought it would happen. There were plenty chaplain assistants available and I am far from being the best. So I asked him why he called me. His response was immediate, almost like he was expecting the question. He said, “I wanted someone who was willing to die with me if necessary.” He wanted me because of my loyalty. I’ve always prided myself on being loyal.

This made me think of another story of loyalty and bravery. Found in 1 Samuel 14, Jonathan and his armor bearer exemplify the loyalty/bravery relationship. I will paraphrase the story starting from verse 6. Jonathan told his armor bearer to go with him to the camp of the enemy because maybe the Lord would work for them. Maybe? Read the story, Jonathan wasn’t sure what the outcome would be, only that he knew God was with him. The young man who bore Jonathan’s armor responded, “Do all that is in your heart. Go then; here I am with you, according to your heart.”

Reading on a little further in the story we find that Jonathan received the sign he was looking for that would ensure the Lord had delivered the enemy into his hands. And we also see that if it had been the other sign, the victory was not promised, yet Jonathan and his armor bearer would have stayed and fought in defeat anyway. To receive the victory, they had to completely expose themselves to the enemy, climbing the mountain on hands and knees. I wonder what the armor bearer was thinking. He was tagging along on a mission of 2 against an entire encampment. But he stayed loyal to Jonathan.

A few months ago at Ft Hood, I shared with CH Mac the story of Jonathan and his armor bearer in reference to how I view our relationship on this deployment. I am the armor bearer and I challenged him to be Jonathan. What God lays on his heart, I will follow him. That’s the kind of trust I have in my chaplain. Going back to why CH Mac chose me for this mission, I believe God is with us and will give us the victories He gave to Jonathan and the armor bearer. But should it go the other way, I will have stood loyal to the end.

It does cross my mind sometimes where we are and all the things that could happen. But I know for a fact that I am where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing, being the armor bearer for CH Mac. It is without fear that I say, “Do all that is in your heart. Go then; here I am with you, according to your heart.”

Good day and God bless.

Dave

The True Risk

This post was removed for a while to make someone happy, even though it had been approved for publishing here. So, I’m putting it back. Enjoy.

Every weekend in September my chaplain and I travel from our compound to another to provide religious support and to participate in a ceremony honoring the fallen of our NATO forces. For more on the ceremony, see my blog entry titled “The Ceremony.” Every trip comes with some element of danger. Some of our trips have even been canceled. Most of the trips we made were in armored NTVs (non-tactical vehicles). One time week we walked to our destination for a trip that lasted only a couple of hours. We were walking on the roads for about 5 minutes, but it was quite an adventure to be on the streets, to see the people and the traffic up close. Turns out, we weren’t supposed to walk, at least not those of us in my unit. But that’s a whole other point of grief I won’t get into here.

On this particular weekend we were all geared up, ready to walk. We were wearing our protective gear, including a protective vest, helmet, gloves, etc. I had my M9 and my M16. I was ready for the adventure. At the last-minute we found out that our walk was canceled and began scrambling to find a ride. We did, our drive team came through like the professionals they are.

Early Sunday morning we are setting up for chapel service. The Navy Captain that plays piano for the services asked me to go to the gate of the compound and escort his Afghan National Army friend to the service. So I set out on my mission. I made my way through the compound to the gate. I went out to where I thought I was supposed to meet him and found myself on the street, outside the compound, without my gear. I had only my M9 with me. I looked around to see a few locals walking the street. There was almost no vehicular traffic. I walked toward the entry checkpoint down the way from where I exited. I wasn’t afraid and never felt threatened. But it was a very surreal feeling.

I found the gentleman I was looking for. He was dressed in his uniform talking to another Afghan Soldier who was also waiting for an escort to get into the compound. He had a genuine smile and was very happy to see me. I greeted him in his native tongue and he returned the greeting in English, shook my hand, then embraced me. I led him through the gates and checkpoints and then to the chapel. We talked about his training he had been to in the States and where I was from back home. He spoke very good English.

As it turns out he is a Christian, something that puts his life in jeopardy here (hence, I will not use his name or rank). As I sat there during the service, I pondered all this. Here is a man who not only is willing to risk his life to make his country a better place, but also to risk everything in his life to go to church and fellowship with other Christians. This moved me.

They say we, as American Soldiers, risk our lives everyday by being here. I know this to be true when I attend the ceremonies and see the names of the fallen. But I have never felt threatened or in danger since I’ve been here, not on any of the missions I’ve gone on, not even when we walked in the streets. Maybe that’s my American culture of taking things for granted or maybe I’m just old enough to know that we can’t live forever anyway. Whatever the job at hand, we are willing to do it not matter the cost. But in thinking about all this, I am humbled and ashamed that I take so much for granted. It’s easy to do what I do with all the cumbersome protective gear I have to wear. There is some safety in it. There are no repercussions for me going to church or being a Christian. But this Afghan Soldier, to do what he did, to go to church, to be a Christian here, is far more risky than anything I have ever done. His reward will be great.

So I ask you this question as I close: What are you willing to die for? More importantly: What are willing to live for. Dying is the easy part. Can you handle living for what you believe?

Good day and God bless.

Dave

Happy Anniversary

It was 21 years ago when Diana walked down the aisle toward me. It was an outside wedding at Eden Garden’s State Park, a little warm, and it had threatened rain. There was a brief shower, but it held off for the ceremony. I looked like a dork in tails, and we still debate whose idea it was for me to wear that style of tuxedo. But she looked stunning, absolutely beautiful. And she’s done nothing but become more beautiful to me over the years. I found out later that as her dad walked her down the aisle that he told her it wasn’t too late to change her mind. I’m glad she didn’t, and I don’t blame her dad one bit. I’ve told this before and the usual response would be, “Wow, you and your father-in-law didn’t get along.” But we did. He was a very wise man, someone I looked up to. And even though he’s gone, I would still like to be like the man he was. I have daughters and I’m sure I’ll be telling them the same thing going down the aisle one day.

I look back over the last 21 years and see how much I’ve learned, how much we’ve grown, and I am so amazed at so many things. First, I’m amazed that she’s put up with me for this long. I don’t even want to live with myself sometimes and she does it on purpose! I’m amazed at our six beautiful, talented, smart children. Without them it would just me and her. How much fun would that be? Well, ok, it would be fun, but the kids certainly make it better. And I’m amazed that she still thinks I’m funny even though I’ve been telling the same jokes for over 20 years. She loves me enough to laugh at them anyway. Or maybe she’s just laughing at me. Either way, I like to think I still make her smile.

One thing I’ve learned is that marriage is not 50/50. Each person has to give 100%. And while there have been times over the years that one or both us didn’t give the full 100%, we complemented each other well enough to make up the difference until we got back on track. The overall work load of being married might not balance out all the time, but what ever your job is in the marriage, give 100% to it. That’s what we try to do. And we’ve done a good job making sure we work to our strengths.

For example, she likes working in the yard. I’d rather work in the kitchen. As a matter of fact, when we got married I’m not sure she knew what a kitchen was. She would call me at work when she couldn’t get the smoke detector to turn off when she attempted to cook canned biscuits. She’s come a long way since then. Also, she knows how to do minor plumbing, while I’m not allowed to play with power tools anymore after that one incident. And I’m not allowed to work on the cars. I haven’t been banned from doing electrical work yet, but I’m sure that’s just a matter of time. And I’m pretty sure I’m not allowed to install a washing machine after I flooded part of the house. And then again after I thought I fixed it. Oops. We each have our strengths and have done very well in letting each other use them.

We have gone through more trials than any couple should have to. But we’ve been blessed far beyond what we deserve. We’ve been at rock bottom and on top of the world a number of times over the years. I submit that the good times far outweigh the bad times. We aren’t perfect and don’t have a perfect marriage, but we’re perfect for each other.

Diana, I love you. You mean the world to me. It’s because of you that I do what I do. It’s because of you that I’m the man I am. You’ve told me before that one quality that you love about me is how hard I work to support the family. I do that because I love you. And one quality I love about you is that you keep our family together, moving in the right direction. Together, we are one and get it done. I love you.

Good day and God bless.

Dave

9/11 in Kabul, Afghanistan

Twelve years ago today America changed. We weren’t looking to change, we didn’t necessarily want to change, but it’s a change we were forced to go through. We will never be the same again. I’ve followed all the posts today on Facebook in my news feed about all the remembrances, the pictures, the support for both the victims of the attack and the Service Members still fighting a war that’s supposed to be winding down.

As 9/11 approached, we double checked ourselves, made sure everything was good, and stayed vigilant. No worries. We’ve been doing this for a long time. But I think what happened today caught everyone off guard. No one saw this coming.

As I came out the door of the building to throw a box in the dumpster I could hear the commotion on the streets outside the walls of our compound. It was after dark. I could hear people yelling, horns blowing, and noises that sounded an awful lot like gunfire. I could see flashes of light in the air. I noticed that everyone outside was calm. Looking to the sky, but calm. Why wasn’t anyone taking cover? We are in a war zone after all and I know for sure that is gunfire I hear. After my trip to the dumpster, I walked to the gazebos where the daily gossip and b.s. stories could be heard for the day. That’s where I found out what was happening.

The Afghanistan soccer team beat India to win its first ever international trophy in soccer. The people were celebrating. Since I don’t follow soccer, I’m not sure, but I think this puts them in the competition for the World Cup. The Afghans have something to cheer about. And they were cheering. Fireworks and real gunfire. Hollering in the streets, horns honking. I could only picture it from where I was. I sat at the gazebos for about an hour listening to the people on the other side of the walls. I watch tracers fly over the camp and could hear the rat-a-tat-tat of the machine guns. Don’t these guys know those rounds have to come down somewhere? I saw one of the Afghanistan interpreters sitting out there. She was smiling, taking it all in. I could see the APPF (Afghan People’s Protection Force) guards at the gate. They were happy, shaking hands with some of the Afghan workers from our compound that walked by on their way to their quarters for the night.

Afghanistan is a nation that has been torn apart for the better part of 34 years by war and government unrest, Soviet occupation, Taliban choke hold, corrupt politics, and more. And for many years before that this country has dealt with tribal and ethnic divisions as well as religious unrest. The Afghanistan soccer team has brought some unity and happiness to this otherwise dismal place to be. The people here have a reason to stick their chest out, something to be proud of. I am truly happy for them. I hope they win again. Maybe with less gunfire next time, though.

I heard a sports announcer say one time, “Winning changes everything.” I don’t believe that to be true in the broad perspective of life. Tomorrow will be the same as yesterday, only today was different. But I do know that here, for today, winning a soccer game meant the world to a nation. And I’m glad I was here for it.

Good day and God bless.

Dave

The Ceremony

Sometimes I wonder how I got to where I am. Not how did I get to Afghanistan, but how I got to be where I am, doing the things I’m doing, working with the people I’m working with, seeing the world in a way that so few get to see it. Some might think it’s weird for me consider myself lucky to be here, in a war zone, away from many of the comforts of home, away from my family. I do count myself lucky to be able to serve, even here. We do have some of the comforts of home, though not near as comfortable as being home. And while I miss my family back home dearly, these that I serve with are my family here. Putting it all into this perspective, I like this life’s adventure I’m on.

One of the things I have experienced recently is the memorial ceremony at ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) held each week in front of the headquarters building there. I mentioned this in a Facebook post a short while back, but I’ll go into greater detail here. I should note that my chaplain did the most recent ceremony and will do a few more as a fill in to the usual chaplain. The ceremony is only about 10-15 minutes, held outside. The back drop to the podium where the chaplain speaks is the Afghan flag, the NATO flag, then the flags of the Coalition Forces that suffered a loss. The chaplain starts the ceremony, then a senior military leader from each of the Coalition Forces reads the names of fallen from their respective country, an Afghan National Army leader says a prayer for his fallen and states how many (too many names to read at the ceremony), the bagpipes play, and chaplain concludes the ceremony.

It’s fascinating to me to be standing there with so many other Service Members from all over the world paying respects to the fallen. Up close to the center of the ceremony there are a couple of foriegn units in formation, but for the most part, we just find a place to stand in the background and watch. We all come to¬†attention when called. We listen to the prayers and words of comfort. Then, seemingly as quick as the ceremony started, we all go our separate ways, back to what ever it is we are assigned to do.

The United States was the only Coalition flag up at the most recent ceremony. Five American Service Member’s names were read. The first time I attended the ceremony it struck me how quick it was. I remember thinking to myself, “How can we pay proper respect to the fallen so quick?” Not just for the U.S forces, but for who ever gives their life in such a manner. As I pondered this in the week in between ceremonies I came to a conclusion.

We stop here only long enough to recognize the fallen. We have a job to do. While our hearts are heavy and we feel a loss, we have to move on and complete the mission we’ve been given. If we stop too long we get distracted. We don’t have time to memorialize, grieve, morn, or reflect. At least not all at once, not here. It has to become a background thought. It can’t be foremost in our minds lest we lose track of what we need to do to get the rest of us home safely.

Even though I didn’t personally know any of the names called at either one of the ceremonies I’ve been to so far, I still feel a connection and a loss. Maybe it’s the kind of connection that only exists for those that wear or have worn the uniform, I don’t know. But it’s a sobering reminder of where I am in the world today and what’s going on around me. Each time I go outside the wire I take it all in. I look at the people on the streets, the shops, the traffic, the advertisements. As I file it all into my memory of life experiences, I make sure to find a place in there for the ceremonies so I don’t forget we are still at war. Sometimes it’s easy to not think about it from the inside of the walls, and forget what’s going on the outside.

Take the time remember the fallen and their families. Pray for them. Pray for us. Pray for our families back home doing all the hard work of keeping homes running. We will continue to do what we do until our job is complete.

Good day and God bless.

Dave