His name is John (real name withheld for his and his family's security) and he is assigned to a forward operating base in Afghanistan.
To say that just being an American Christian there is living dangerously would be an understatement. You see John is an Army Chaplain and sees his duty as essential to the well being of "his" soldiers, our heroes of today. He is a man of the cloth that speaks their language because he has been there and done that.
It wasn't always that way. John is a graduate of the Military Academy at West Point. He originally was trained and assigned to artillery. Somehow killing the enemy at a distance was not exactly a satisfying vocation so he finished out his commitment and departed the service. Then he attended seminary, was ordained Southern Baptist, and promptly reentered the service as an Army Chaplain. His goal now is saving lives through tending to the Spiritual well being of "his" soldiers.
Extracted from a speech by Oliver North, that I recently read, "The average age of the young infantryman of today is 201⁄2 years. That makes him about a year older than his grandfather that fought World War II. He's a recent high school graduate; he was probably an average student, pursued some form of sport activities, drives a 10-year-old jalopy and has a steady girlfriend who either broke up with him when he left, or swears to be waiting when he returns from half a world away. He is 10 or 15 pounds lighter now than when he was at home because he is working or fighting from before dawn to well after dusk. He has trouble spelling, thus letter writing is a pain for him, but he can field strip a rifle in 30 seconds and reassemble it in less time in the dark. He obeys orders instantly and without hesitation, but he is not without spirit or individual dignity. Just as did his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, he is paying the price for our freedom. Beardless or not, he is not a boy! He is the American Fighting Man that has kept this country free for over 200 years."
Yes this is the warrior that Chaplain John is privileged to shepherd 24/7 for the year that he will be assigned to Afghanistan. The camp is small enough that our women who also valiantly serve are few in number. He also tends to Special Forces outposts way out in "Indian Country." Some of us think that he shouldn't do it alone and my wife has found a way to do just that.
Ann has made contact (Ah the internet is a wonderful thing!) with Captain John and has committed to sending him a box of goodies each week. The Chaplain shares his largess with "his" troops, knowing full well that many never receive so much as a letter much less a package from home. During my time overseas during the Vietnam War we called them CARE packages; military humor referring to the international aid agency that sends help packages to the indigent world wide.
The time-proven observation is that there are no atheists in foxholes. Many of our young warriors may never have set foot in a church before joining the service. However most times before a team sets out on a mission outside the wire, they will gather and offer prayer for their safe keeping. It is unstructured and spontaneous and if a Chaplain is present it is even better.
Now these young men are macho and would never stoop to stepping into the Chaplain's office for counseling or asking for help to address their stark fears! However if they know that the Chaplain has a supply of jerky, sunflower seeds, good old American candy, chocolate (winter is OK but it melts in the hot summer), granola bars, DVD/CDs, individually packaged drink mixes, chap stick, hand sanitizer, small Gold Bond powder, gum, salted nuts and other things he misses from home, they will step into the Chapel to satisfy a craving. The Chaplain strikes up a conversation and then somehow it is all right to express his inner dark fear. Following a little man to man conversation it is OK to share and receive the assurance that only a man of the cloth can render.
Native children the world over are somehow attracted to our American GIs. Maybe it is because the GIs carry candy, small toys, mittens, and warm caps (the camp is high above sea level) in their battle dress pockets and give to any kid that comes out to greet them. So include some of those kid friendly items for those urchins that magically appear wherever our warriors may roam. It works both ways as sometimes those bright eyed children will point out where the "bad guys" might be hiding out.
Christmas is coming though and Ann is in the midst of gathering items and the funds to send at least forty, yes that is 40, packages to her Chaplain. Her last year' goal was also 40 but she and her friends sent 90 boxes to Iraq. The contents will be distributed to the troops so that they will know that we at home care. They might be half a world away but just a little bit of home can help make things just a little better especially at Christmas. This year she is also soliciting cards with a little personal note written in each expressing our thankfulness for their service. Chaplain John promises to deliver those especially to the men that he knows rarely, if ever, receive mail.
Thanksgiving is approaching and most of us are looking forward to that Holiday. Due to the exigencies of the Postal Service it is imperative that all her packages, she uses the large flat rate boxes, be mailed by the 22nd of November to assure arrival in time. If you are moved to participate in her selfless ministry, and friends all across Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and even California have already committed, give her a call at (308) 345-5181.
Thursday the 11th is Veterans Day. If you know one, take a moment to express your thanks for his/her service. They might be a bit embarrassed but nevertheless will appreciate the gesture. Those on active duty, the guardsmen and reserves all count as veterans so express your appreciation to them also.
That is the way that I saw it.