A night with Bonecrusher

As I sit in my apartment watching the M*A*S*H finale episode on DVD, and appreciating it far more than I ever have, I find myself emotionally drained and quite tearful after performing a funeral for a baby of a Soldier this afternoon. Chaplains arent allowed to let go of their emotions. We were told by Sgt. Burton, our CH-BOLC platoon NCO, to “take care of others’ needs and only when you get home can you take care of your own needs.” I’ve learned that lesson.

I’ve done alot of ministry over the years, and Chaplain School taught us that the Army ministry is like no other. They were absolutely correct. It’s “high speed.” The variety of experiences I’ve had over the years have given me “tools for my ruck sack.” The mixed bag of life’s experiences have also given me things to draw on. Chaplain School put it all together. I’ve been hitting that ruck sack hard this week. Soldier after Soldier, and even spouses have walked through my door this week saying, “Chaplain, can I talk to you a minute?” And a minute turns into 30. And we aren’t even deployed yet! They aren’t asking about the meaning of Genesis, or what I believe about “inerrancy.” They have serious family crises, they are weighing heavy issues, they have lots on their mind, and they dont waste any time telling me.

Thursday night, my Chaplain Assistant and I were invited to ride in Humvees out to the range where Bonecrusher Troop were set to practice firing their 50 caliber guns at night using special night vision equipment. We were able to eat chow with the men and then visit with them as they prepped their vehicles for live fire exercises.

When the sun went down, and 2000 (8:00pm) came, the firing began. We got to sit up in the tower and watch the computer operator set and reset the targets downrange for hours. The radio man would communicate to the radio operator in each vehicle. Vehicles included loaded Humvees and Bradleys. We would watch the computer screen and see the glow of the tracers outside, from inside the “war room.” The Commander and First Sergeant invited me to ride in one of the vehicles as it fired its weapons. Naturally, I was ecstatic. I got to sit in the back seat and converse with the crew of three, which included the driver, the radio operator, and the gunner. The gunner of my vehicle was an excellent shot. I gave them some words of encouragement before they let me out. Shortly thereafter, the Commander and First Sergeant had a sit down meeting with my Assistant and me to brief us on the list of Soldiers in their Troop who were facing serious issues. High risk Soldiers. I asked the CO how we can best be of any further assistance and he immefiately asked us to provide a Sunday morning field worship service on Jan. 29 when the unit is at break during exercises at yet another range. This will be the first one for both my Assistant and me, and for our UMT. I will use the “rocks” message I did at CH-BOLC about David and Goliath and “Personal Courage.”

At around 0100 (1:00am) I decided to grab some sleep in the upper room of the tower, where my Assistant had already gone to bed an hour earlier. I laid myself down on the concrete floor and put my head on my armored vest, that I had pulled off and used as a pillow. This is called “sleeping with your boots on,” which I did. No sense in setting up a tent only to drop it four hours late. I was tired so even as the gunfire pierced the night, I was able to sleep.

I woke up a couple of hours later, right about 0300, because I had gotten cold on the dark concrete floor, and had to use the latrine. I noticed the guns had gone silent and everyone was either asleep or in their fighting vehicles. I could hear the soft hum of all the engines. I climbed down the two story high metal stairwell to grab my Gortex jacket from my ruck sack, and walked across the short field towards the back of the out building. It was then that I thought I spied something out of place.

I stopped to look harder, since I wasn’t wearing my glasses. Sure enough, it was a Soldier standing there beside a tree, all alone, frantically puffing on a cigarette. I walked up to him and introduced myself as the Chaplain, asking him if he was alright. Turns out he wasn’t. He told me he could not sleep. He and his battle buddy were deployed and had been back less than a year. His buddy had gotten out of the Army and moved north. This Soldier I was talking with had just learned that week, a few days earlier, that his buddy had committed suicide. My Soldier told me he was struggling with that as well as other Family issues. I asked him if the night training exercise had brought back memories of his buddy. He said it had. We chatted a little while longer, and then I put my hand on his shoulder and prayed with him and for him aloud. We were the only two up, standing there outdoors at 3am, in the cold darkness. I told him he could talk to me anytime and that he was not alone. After I walked away to use the latrine, I came back by to find him gone. I assumed he was able to go back and climb into his vehicle for a few hours of sleep.

When I lay back down to sleep, I felt my heart pounding. I thought of that exercise at CH-BOLC’s Capstone where we got to counsel Soldiers out in the field in the dark of a cold night. That was a rehearsal for what I had just done with a Bonecrusher Soldier. I thanked God over and over for this job, and prayed for the Soldier and his Troop, the Command team, and for my Chaplain Assistant I could hear gently snoring beside me. I wasnt cold anymore. Before going to sleep I got up once more, walked to the window and scanned the yard again to see if he or any other Soldier was wandering around alone. Nobody was. I learned that from now on, when I am out with the troops, I should get up at least once in the middle of the night just to walk around a bit to check to see if anything’s happening. In the middle of the night is when the voices in hurting Soldiers’ heads get louder. Just like anyone else.

My Chaplain Assistant woke me up a few hours later with, “Chow time, Sir.” Words to my ears. I hopped up from the floor, put on my battle vest and my helmet, and headed downstairs. At breakfast chow line I loudly said a simple “Thank you Lord for this food and for those who prepared it.” After chatting with the Soldiers and inviting some to our upcoming Strong Bonds marriage retreat, we walked back to the fighting vehicles lined up along the ridge. I moved along the row of vehicles talking to any Soldiers I saw up, brushing their teeth and shaving, and prepping for another round of target practice. Some were still sleeping on their tiny cots inside. I didnt wake them. The inside of the Bradleys strangely reminded me of the close sleeping quarters inside the old Yorktown aircraft carrier. Several of us stood to stare downrange and watch the most incredible sunrise over the horizon. Some Soldiers began taking photos of it. I loudly commented to some of them that God is certainly full of wonderful surprises. I couldn’t help thanking God for the total night’s experience and found myself singing under my breath the chorus to U2’s “Beautiful Day.” (It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it go away). That’s when I spotted the Soldier I had prayed with in the middle of the night. He just looked at me and slightly smiled. I asked him again, “You doing alright Soldier?” He nodded yes and replied “Yes, Sir.” Then we had to load into the Humvee to return to Kelley Hill. Chatting with the Soldiers in the front seat on the ride back was a treat.

I am so fortunate and blessed to be doing such a ministry job. Im by no means excellent at it. But I do my best. I ask alot of questions because I want to learn all I can. I never know how long the Lord will let me do this job, but already I know without a doubt that He has me right here with this Cavalry unit for a reason. And after the funeral today, to hear the Squadron XO and later my Commander – a Lt. Colonel who’s been deployed 5 times, tell me how happy he is that I’m here, I feel very blessed. I cant do this work. But the Lord can. I am happy that the funeral today was pleasing to the Family and to my Commander. I feel the learning curve getting flatter. And I see in my mind the faces of the encouraging cadre and classmates and NCOs of Chaplain School urging me on. And I definitely feel the prayers of those who support and encourage me. Together, as a team, we can be salt and light to Soldiers and their Families.

I hope things like this blog and my Facebook posts (which are much more random!) give you who are reading a sense of “being here” and experiencing much more what Army Chaplaincy is like in this modern Army. Thanks for reading. Next week I already have counseling appointments and premarital counseling to perform. We’re going to have a Soldier wedding in April! Hooah! Thank you for continued prayers because this Chaplain has his own heavy duty issues he is dealing with, but deals with them when he gets home each day.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jodie on 21 January 12 at 23:44

    This made me cry, smile, gave me chills and proud to call you my brother.

    Reply

  2. I can’t think of any greater feeling than knowing you are making a difference in the way the Lord intended you to do.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Linda Pennington on 23 January 12 at 02:17

    What a touching story you have woven into your daily experiences! How marvelous that you are open to being used by God to touch so many lives. Thank you for caring about our soldiers, the defenders of our country and faith at the same time. I know you feel so blessed, and I am more convinced every time I read your blog that God has put you exactly where He can use you the most to serve Him. It’s so hard to believe that anyone can’t see that you are so much in God’s will at this time in your life. We love you and continue to pray for you. Please remember our granddaughter in Jacksonville, who will undergo her 17th major surgery in her 16 years. This is a 5-9 hour surgery, and she can use many prayers in the coming days.
    We love you very much!

    Reply

    • Thank you Linda. Im still staring at a big learning curve. Each day feels like two or three steps forward and a misstep. Like learning a new dance or a new language. But Im getting there. Thank you for your support. I am a bit stunned by some of those who no longer support me. But then again, unless we’ve walked in their shoes, we really dont know what they’re experiencing. But I am grateful indeed for my family and friends who do support me.

      Reply

  4. Posted by DD on 10 February 12 at 17:40

    I too am so deeply touched by your honesty and obvious Love of serving our Lord and serving our soldiers. I am at the beginning stages of applying to become a Chaplain and prayerfully I too will be in the will and purposes of God. I am honored to read about chaplain life and ministry, it is really really a blessing, please continue to write..

    You are a blessing dear brother and I pray the blessings of strength, peace, Love and protection and courage over your life

    Reply

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