A “Chapter” is a Chapter

As a Squadron Chaplain I counsel lots of Cavalrymen and women. Probably the most difficult counseling situations are providing care for Soldiers who are being chaptered out of the Army for any of a variety of reasons. Could be an APFT failure. Could be height/weight issues. Might be medical issues or UCMJ issues. Whatever the reason, there is often a lot of pain and a wide range of emotions involved when a person is told they must get out of the Army before they really want to. It’s just not a pleasant situation.

The term “chapter” is interesting to me. When I think of how that word is mostly used in civilian life it has to do with portions of a book or a DVD. Smaller pieces that make up the full story. Some chapters are filled with pain and difficulties, while others are brimming with success and triumph. And some chapters are just strange. But as a whole, a wide variety of chapters can make an award-winning novel or movie. Life itself is filled with chapters. There’s childhood, then the teenage years, followed by the young adult years. Somewhere down the road we reach “the prime of our life” – and I still haven’t quite figured out what that is. Middle-age is yet another chapter in our lives, followed by our retiree or senior citizen years. Then we get just plain old. Birth and death are chapters. Single and married and even divorced are chapters. Together, all those chapters create the tapestries that are our lives. And the wide variety of life experiences represented in all of us make for quite an interesting population!

So let’s look at that Army chapter again. Yes, it means a Soldier is involuntarily separating from the Army. As a Chaplain, I do not advise the Soldier facing the change to deny their feelings. Allow them to come. But then I try to encourage the Soldier to live with the reality that change is coming, and help them to try to prepare for that change. The page in their life as a member of the US Army is about to turn. But what new chapter will they find? What new experiences await? New challenges and new successes? Yes, there will be future successes! The end of their Army career doesn’t have to mark the end of their life. Sometimes it is painfully obvious that right now in a person’s life, he or she is not a good fit for the role of Soldier. It doesn’t mean they won’t be successful somewhere else.

I advise a Soldier who knows they will be exiting the Army to shift their primary focus to making transition plans and to prepare for that next chapter of their lives so that they have the best possible chance at landing on their feet. There is a Bible passage I have turned to time and again throughout my life, when I have had to leave big jobs for smaller ones, and have seen what I thought was my future come crashing down around me. It’s found in Jeremiah 29:11-13 and it is a message from the Lord for us, through the prophet. It says, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart.”

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What Is YOUR Family’s Mission?

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Here is a an article I wrote for an Army newsletter. Enjoy.
I WILL ALWAYS PLACE THE MISSION FIRST. It’s the first line of the Warrior’s Ethos. Soldiers know it. They live it. And whose mission is it? The Commander’s mission. The Commander’s intent. It’s what makes the world go ‘round in the Soldier’s unit. The mission is planned, discussed, and dispersed to the Soldiers. The Soldiers then train on the mission. They rehearse the mission. They prepare to execute the mission. They execute the mission. They complete the mission. They evaluate the mission. They make suggestions to the Commander for changes to the mission. And then the Commander sets forth the updated mission. It’s a clear cut process. But it is necessary for us to accomplish the work of the Army.

The Commander tells the Soldiers each week at the closeout safety brief to “have a plan” and execute that plan. To have a safe plan for fun with the family and then execute. So just what is YOUR family’s plan? More specifically, what is YOUR family’s mission? It must be more than the Commander’s mission. Why? Because the entire family is not in uniform. The Army is the largest part of the Soldier’s life but it isn’t all of the Soldier’s life. As a Chaplain I would add that it isn’t the most important part of a Soldier’s life. Want proof? What happens when a Soldier is deployed and something serious happens to an immediate family member that jeopardizes the health and safety of that family member? Watch how fast the Red Cross responds with a message to that Soldier, and see how fast that Soldier is headed back on emergency leave to family. The Army places an EXTREMELY HIGH importance on the family. What importance does the Soldier place on his or her family?

Importance placed on the family is a start in forming the family mission, but there is much more. In the Army, a Commander’s mission means a course of action. And that action generally is to protect and serve. It is two-fold. How does your family protect and serve? The Soldier should always be sure official documents and records are in order and that family needs are met, utilizing all the resources the Army has to offer. But don’t forget to utilize other resources, such as civilian agencies, relatives, and worship places. That covers the protection.

But what about an action plan for your family to serve? My challenge to you and your family is to have a clear discussion with your spouse about what your family’s values are. What do you believe? What is most important to your family? What do you want to teach your children? What activities do you want them to engage in? I also challenge you to think about how your family can be of service to others in need. How does service to others in need fit your family’s mission? Who is your family’s “Commander?” The Soldier? The spouse? Both of you together? A Higher Power such as God? How are your family’s decisions made? And how can your protected family use its strength and resources to serve and assist others?

Today I had a Soldier come to me to ask how his family can help another Soldier’s family in need. Seems they decided to upgrade their Christmas decorations this year. Rather than selling their old ones or simply tossing them out, they want to give them to a Soldier’s family who could use them. THAT is what I mean! How does your family’s mission include service to others? This holiday season is more about giving than receiving. Teaching our children to be grateful for what they have is easier when they are actively engaged in helping others less fortunate. Teach the family members by example, to serve others as described in your mission.

And just as the Commander writes out his or her mission in the form of operational orders, families should write their mission down. At least a clear mission statement. I have seen some mission statements that were very brief and others that were longer. Some families embroidered them and hung them on the wall, or printed them up on nice certificate paper and had everyone sign it, and hang it in a frame. Some mission statements were original and others borrowed from other sources. One family mission statement I particularly like is from the Bible. Joshua announced that “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” What is your family’s mission? What is your family’s mission statement? I challenge you to formulate one this holiday season. I challenge you to train your family members on it. To rehearse it. To implement it. And to discuss it afterwards to see what changes need to be made. Because one day, the Soldier will remove the uniform for the final time and then focus solely on the family mission. Why not get an early start?

TO THE COLORS!

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It’s a daily thing we do at the beginning and at the end of an Army day. Stand in formation at PT, sharply at attention and give a salute to the American Flag as the bugle sounds “To The Colors.” If you are driving your car on post and that bugle plays “To The Colors,” you are required to pull over – if it is safe to do so, hop out and face the direction of the flag and give a salute until the bugle finishes playing. This is mostly an afternoon thing.

In the Army we do it so much it almost becomes second nature. Routine. That is…..until you are physically unable to do it anymore. We may take for granted that we are privileged to wear the uniform and be called to attention and directed to salute. But some never take it for granted. I proudly stand and salute and think of my late-grandfather and late-uncle who served in the Navy in WWII. I think of the friends I know who fought in Korea, Vietnam, and more recent conflicts. I think of the many who showed up, did their jobs, and gave up their lives for my freedom. I think of those in my brigade and division now deployed. I think of my comrades and friends in my own ranks and formation. I think of how grateful it is to have this privilege. And I find it very easy and very motivating to stand smartly at attention and give my best salute. I love the sound of that bugle – whether live or recorded. It never gets old. And after “To The Colors,” we get to sing “Dog-Faced Soldier.” I sing my best, no matter how early in the morning it is. I want to honor those Dog-Faces from yesteryear. Especially that Korean War Veteran who is a Dog-Faced Soldier who lived and worked on Kelley Hill, who now is in a Veterans Home in Northern Illinois. And when the bugle blows again and we yell “Charge!” I yell at the very top of my lungs. Why? Because it makes me feel very good, very happy, and very motivated. As difficult as it was for me to enter the Army, and to finally be here – and to be Cav, it gives me goosebumps. I yell CCCHHHAARRRRGGGEE!!!!!! usually so loud other Soldiers and Officers notice. One other Captain – a Ranger, encourages me to let it rip! The other day my Commander didn’t know I was in the formation because it was dark and there were many of us. But after he heard my CHARGE just above the others, I heard him say to the Sergeant Major, “Chaplain’s here.” They gave me a coin for it at the Spur Dinner in June. Told me that the one noncombatant has the loudest war cry. Maybe because I love my job and this opportunity so much. Did I say I love the Army? 🙂

But as I salute during “To The Colors” from this day forward, I will think of my comrades who can no longer stand in formation and salute the flag. Which now makes the action so much more than routine.

I see Soldiers in the Warrior Transition Unit, trying to recover from injuries sustained in battle. I see some Soldiers out of formation because they are incarcerated for serious indiscretions and criminal activity. I see Soldiers in mental health treatment centers and rehab clinics. I see Soldiers simply unable to be there, to physically stand at attention.

I recently have seen an injured Soldier in the hospital who may not walk again, let alone stand and salute. I visited this Soldier today who literally could not move any part of his body – yet, below his neck. And he was clearly frustrated about it. Oh how I felt for him. Young, healthy, super strong, a true warrior. And because of an accident he is flat on his back immobilized. During my visit I remembered that I have an Army Bugle Calls app on my iPhone. I tried lighthearted joking with the Soldier. He forced a smile but was clearly restless. He is not used to the feeling of being stuck. But when I played the Reveille sound he nodded and smiled. But then when I played “To The Colors,” he closed his eyes and his lips started quivering, as if he was fighting back tears. He opened his eyes after the last note and they were watery. He smiled and mouthed the words “thank you.” That was probably the first time he’d heard that old familiar tune since before his accident two weeks ago. And oh, how he misses it. I bet if he is able to stand and salute again, someday, he will stand with great pride, with the most perfect salute, and tears will stream down his face. This Soldier is still a patriotic warrior. Still proud to wear the uniform. His future is uncertain. His road towards recovery is long and full of questions. But I prayed with him and his Dad tonight that if God would grant him healing, to allow this man, this brother of mine to stand and salute the flag again. As for me, I will never salute the flag the same. Next time I hear “To The Colors,” I will stand at attention and say a prayer for my comrades who cannot share the moment with me. I will pray for the day that they may join our formation again.

“Present arms!”

On a Mission to Families

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I should never forget that as an Army Chaplain I am first called by God then that calling is recognized by a denominational endorsing body. Without those I cannot serve as an Army Chaplain. Doesn’t matter my work performance or PT or training. Bottom line is that I am a missionary – sent by my denomination to live and serve in the Army community. Yesterday, October 28, 2012, it really felt like a missions day. In the morning I had the joy of continuing to worship with and teach a large group of Kindergartners at Main Post Chapel the “Ten Commandments.” I was thrilled when it was time to review the Commandments when three of the kids opened up their own Bibles right to the correct Exodus passage and read the answer when I asked them what the next Commandment was. Apparently, some Soldiers and their spouses are guiding their children at home – which is the goal.

In the afternoon, I witnessed another family celebration. I have been counseling and ministering to a Soldier and his wife from my 3-1 Cav unit for a few months. Helped them reunite here on Benning, and she was able to participate in the Spouse Spur Ride. They wanted to dedicate their baby to God – he being Episcopal and her a Methodist from Australia. My Anglican Chaplain friend and fellow Sledgehammer CH Joe Reffner was able to do the requested baptism yesterday – before a group of witnesses, including guys from the Soldiers platoon, his Troop XO, and his mother-in-law who flew in from Australia for this! We have been able to set this family up for the next Strong Bonds event, to strengthen their marriage.

Finally, my Chaplain Assistant and I dispatched our combat vehicle and drove it to Main Post Chapel last night to “trick it out” and be part of the chapel’s “Trunk or Treat.” Over 1,000 folks came by our vehicle and others to receive candy, Gospel tracts for kids, stickers, pencils, and personal greetings from the Blackhawk Shepherd Unit Ministry Team. Sgt Finley had as good a time as I did, chuckling constantly as he handed candy to friendly costumed kids. I was overjoyed with yesterday. Blessed and reminded that first and foremost, I’m serving as a missionary. What a fun job! Hard, but fun!

Trunk or Treating with Dad

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Today, 28 October 2012, we had an incredible turnout at Main Post Chapel’s “Trunk or Treat” event for Soldiers’ Families. This was my personal favorite costumed Family. Dad is deployed but even he got in on the act as the Tin Man. Yes, the entire Family was dressed in Wizard of Oz costumes. The baby was Toto. What a creative Mom. What a way to get everyone involved. I nearly choked up when I saw Dad’s picture on the front of the stroller as the Tin Man. Had to snap this picture. This picture shows that the reason we do what we do in the Army is for the Family.

Wahkanwarrior's Blog

I’ve got a pocketful of crosses that won’t let me sleep. Celtic crosses, Greek Orthodox crosses, Protestant crosses, Army issue pewter crosses. They’ve been there for three days. Until now, they’ve not been a problem. But tonight, as I try to get to sleep in my ACU pants to stay warm, the crosses feel like a rock in my hip. Much larger than the real rocks underneath the tent floor.

I’m sleeping in a tent on the surface of the Mojave Desert during the March rotation of the Army’s National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, California. We are the first Army brigade in over a decade to do a force-on-force rotation at NTC. Which means constantly moving, no FOBs in the “box” – an area of the desert about as large as Rhode Island. It’s a total expeditionary decisive action. The world’s largest war game of laser tag. Philmont Scout…

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Moonlighting on Mondays

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I knew we were having fun when I saw my bowling partner Atsuko reach into her purse and pull out her bottle of Ensure, and pour it into her cup of Jack Daniels. Game on! Atsuko is a senior adult about 3/5 my height and half my size – but don’t let her stature fool you. She can bowl strikes with the best of them! Atsuko, Deloris, Tyrone and I are on a team we call the Moon Lighters, in a Monday Night bowling league on main post bowling center. 20 teams of four are in the league.

I joined this league because (1) I needed something recreational to do on a Monday night that had little to do with my job. I need a break then. (2) I am an average bowler and have always wanted to bowl in a league. (3) the season runs from Labor Day to Memorial Day. What I wasn’t expecting was to be in a league with mostly retired folks, widows of Soldiers, and Veterans. But THAT is what has made this experience most enjoyable. My kind of folks! Don’t get me wrong, most people arent drinking Jack. But the competition is stiff, the laughter is plentiful, and the sportsmanship and encouragement runs at a very high level.

I bowl with Atsuko. She’s a widow from Japan. She rides to the lanes with Deloris, a widow of a General. Her son is a Colonel. Tyrone is the Manager of the on-post bingo center. He is our ringer. I guess you could say I am their slinger.

Each night begins with announcements. There is often a prayer request made. Collections for special needs are occasionally taken. Food and drink are enjoyed. Is it church? No. But is it community? Oh yeah. Everyone seems to know everyone. I feel blessed to be a part of it. More than one occasion have I been asked to remember someone in prayer. I like to encourage folks. They inspire me – like the several who stand there with four pronged canes, wearing their old unit’s ballcap, and lay down a strike or spare. On Sundays I can work with the children. On Mondays I can bowl with the widows, senior adults and Veterans. Monday thru Friday I’m with the Soldiers. Wednesdays with the Scouts. Yep, I think the Lord has shown me my niche.