Mud, Diesel, Gunpowder and Grace

A few nights ago my Chaplain Assistant and I had the pleasure of providing ministry of presence to Soldiers at the range, where they practiced night firing at targets from their Bradley vehicles. We were even able to sit in one of the vehicles as it drove around and fired away. It had rained so the ground was swampy, but it didnt deter these hardy vehicles. As we sat inside and held on for the bumpy ride, I smelled the spent diesel fuel and the gunpowder as each round fired. I imagined how my Dad must have felt in somewhat similar conditions inside a dragline all night long at the kaolin mine years ago.

I felt very blessed to be sitting beside a Chaplain Assistant whose job it is to protect me. And also to witness this crew of Soldiers working very hard to complete the mission. I learned something watching those men. The machines of our force may be high tech and amazing pieces of equipment, but without the incredible professionalism and coordination of the well-trained crew, they are just empty machines.

The strength of our Army is still the Soldier, the unit, and the leaders who educate, motivate, and command them. And somehow, the Unit Ministry Team is tasked with providing ministry to them. At first, the mission seems a bit overwhelming. But God grants power and strength and guidance to get the job done.

I also learned what to do with those ammo bags I was issued but can’t carry rounds in. Candy fits in them quite well. And candy is a great way to say hello to a team of Soldiers on a quick break from work.

Another week ended I feel very blessed to be part of a team of Chaplains and UMT led by a high speed Brigade Chaplain and Chaplain Assistant. One Team, One Fight! Sunday, the start of a new week, very early in the morning, my Assistant and I caught a ride in a “chow wagon” to go provide a requested worship service at the training range for our men from Bonecrusher. It was our first as a UMT. Glad we get to have on-the-job-training on post! There were minor kinks but we know what to expect next time. 17 Soldiers attended! I was happy about that. God blessed us.

I was nervous, even though I had prayed and God had calmed me. But ask any man there and he would tell you I was nervous. Made a few minor gaffes, but with my Assistant’s help we completed the mission. Some folks might wonder what a field service might look like to 17 Soldiers, tired from too long a day and night yesterday and too little sleep. Well, no harm in telling you.

We were asked to do a “general Protestant service.” I broke out the Chaplain kit I was issued and really used it for the first time. I learned I need to remove some items and add some of my own to make it more practical.

We were fortunate enough to be in a small one room building, and Soldiers had chairs. Some chose to stand. Several had on battle gear. Started with a welcome and making the space sacred. Followed that with a reading from John’s Epistles about God loving us and how we should love others. Also mentioned how real LOVE is found in the Lord. I like to listen to all sorts of popular music, oldies, and music that has a spiritual message. So my Chaplain Assistant played Annie Lennox’s “Money Can’t Buy It” song for the guys on my iPhone through the borrowed boom box. Talked to the men afterwards about not making the mistake of trying to relieve stress and find happiness in the wrong things we often look to. The song was all about this. Then we sang together “Amazing Grace.”

I then asked them if anyone had a prayer request. We did get a response. Then after I said an Intercessory Prayer for the unit we said the Lord’s Prayer together. I then asked for a volunteer to say aloud the 7 Army Values. One guy quoted them. (I’m building seven field services around the 7 Army Values. Object lessons will be part of each of them. Today’s was on the 7th Army Value.) My Assistant then passed around my stones which had “Personal Courage” written on them, and the Scripture passage. 1 Samuel 17:1-51 was the text.

I told them the story of David and Goliath and how the Army cannot issue us Personal Courage, only training and battle equipment. We have to look within to find it. Specifically, we need to look to God as David did as he defeated Goliath. I challenged the Soldiers to look up the story in the Bible and read it. We made available several free Bibles and Books such as Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life.”

We closed with a prayer and then offered Communion. Many participated but a few didnt. Yes, I use real wine because it is MUCH easier to keep unchilled. Used kosher Matza bread. It was then I realized I needed to hit the PX for some more practical storage items such as a stay-fresh “bread” carrier, and a small boot brush for my upcoming sermon on Jesus’ washing others’ feet and the Army Value of “Selfless Service.” Also needed to secure a nice silky, ultralight tablecloth.

On the return ride back in the truck from the field service, I did a little AAR in my head. My Assistant and I will do one on Monday so that we can step up our game next time. But for today, and our first time together, I think it turned out pretty good. I kept hearing our CH-BOLC class leader’s words…. “It’s not about you, it’s not about me, it’s about Him.” So very true. Thank you, CH Johnson. Our service only took 25 minutes, which was five minutes faster than what we had asked the Troop Commander for. He told me “we may have you back!” as he smiled when we were finished. Talk about Grace!


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