We leave today for a four-day pass! Tomorrow will be the first day off that we have had since May 6. Everyone is tired, but in great spirits and excited to see our families. Sheri and Rachael are flying to Philadelphia to meet me there, and we will spend four great days together. Very soon after that, I’ll be flying east. I think everyone in the unit is ready to move on to new and exciting things.

I pray that spirits are rejuvenated and that relationships are strengthened over the next few days.

Final Exercise

We just finished a three day exercise that was the last major training event we will have before we leave the states. The hours were long, so everyone is pretty tired. The exercise involves simulations of different scenarios that each section could face. Someone watches your response, and evaluates your actions. For me, the tasks were a suicide threat, a conscientious objector, and responding to some casualties. We did well, but I hope that we don’t have to do it in real life.

Pray for peace…

Home, Sweet Home…

We moved out of the tents and back to our barracks. That means we’ve moved back to the land of porcelain toilets and good internet connections. One is low-tech, the other high-tech, but both definitely beat no-tech. Everyone is excited to be out of the woods (literally, not figuratively). At our last staff meeting at the FOB, I shared Exodus 8:20 as the passage for the day:

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Rise early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh as he goes out to to the water, and say to him, “Thus says the LORD: Let my people go….”‘

That also means that one phase of training is over, and we are very close to moving east.

Pray for peace…

Almost Finished

Training is almost over. We just finished a three day exercise that covered base defense and combat convoy operations. Since chaplains can’t carry weapons, I was tasked to be on the first aid/litter team for the base defense part and a driver on the convoy. It was fun, but a little stressful. When ordered, we drove our Humvee to the area where the casualty was, began first aid treatment, then loaded up the casualty on the stretcher and drove him back to the field hospital. A treatment scenario went something like this: the evaluator would tell us that the casualty was bleeding from an injury to his chest, and that it was bleeding and making a hissing noise. We would treat the sucking chest wound, then the evaluator would tell us that the casualty was unconscious, then going into shock, etc.

Good training, but I pray that I never have to use it.

Seek and Ye Shall Find…

It’s been a couple of days since I’ve been able to get online. Friday, I went on a dismounted (no vehicles, the Army still speaks in horse cavalry terms) IED defense range. We were simulating a combat patrol down a road and into a village, and encountered three IED’s on the route. When we found one, we were to take appropriate action.

I was going along with a group led by a young Staff Sergeant, when we spotted an IED. We called the location into the higher headquarters, and then moved to surround the IED. I assumed a position beside the team leader, and asked him where the IED was. He pointed to a spot about 15 feet away. He knew something was wrong when I exclaimed “Oh, crap!” The simulated IED’s are harmless in that they will not release shrapnel, but they are large enough to make quite an explosion. We ducked our heads behind a small pile of dirt, and waited for the charge to go off. As the primer burned, we could feel it stinging the inside of our noses and eyes. Then, there was a loud noise and a lot of dirt and rock flying over us. Lots of fun on a training range, but I don’t want to experience that in real life.

Body armor is a pain in the neck, and the side, and the back, etc. Trying to get it on and off in a porta-potty is a real challenge. There are several pieces included in the system, and people wear various amounts depending on the danger level at the place where they are stationed. Everyone here has stopped wearing the throat protectors, groin protectors, and arm protectors

The commander in charge of the base has decided that we had to start wearing everything again. I looked in my wall locker, and the extra pieces weren’t there. I have already sent a box of extra stuff forward to pick up when we get to Kuwait, so I was secretly hoping that the extra body armor components were waiting in Kuwait. If I don’t have it, they can’t make me wear it.

I muttered to myself, “I guess I better look in that backpack.” I pulled a few things out and there they were. The lieutenant on the other side of the tent saw the look on my face and said. “You know Chaplain, that seek and you shall find stuff can be kind of irritating sometimes, can’t it?” So it can… may God give us the desire for things that we ought to seek, and remove our desire for the rest.

Training for IED’s

A good deal of our training here is designed to prepare us for one of the primary threats: the improvised explosive device, or IED. When we go anywhere outside the FOB (forward operating base), we have to move in a tactical convoy of at least two vehicles. Each vehicle has a driver, a person in the front passenger seat who is on the radio, and a gunner who stands up in the center hatch. I’m generally the person on the radio, occasionally the driver, but never the gunner, since chaplains are forbidden to carry weapons. Before we leave, we have to turn in a convoy request that includes the departure time, return time, and route. That gives the trainers plenty of time to prepare surprises for us along the way.

Today, our lead vehicle spotted an IED in the road. They stopped, then signaled to my vehicle to back up. As they started back, the trainers detonated an simulated IED on the other side. They then announced that the gunner was dead and the driver had been blinded. Of course, once the training exercise was complete, the gunner was resurrected and the driver miraculously regained his sight.

The beauty about training is that we can try new things, see what works and what doesn’t, and not not worry about costly mistakes. Unfortunately, most of life is not like that. It would be nice to be able to say whatever we feel, and not have to worry about the effect on those who hear. Real IED’s harm physically, and many of our words harm psychologically and emotionally.

Matthew 12:36 – “I tell you, on the day of judgement you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter….”

Rainy Day

Yesterday was a rainy day at the FOB. Rain is always a positive thing in Scripture, a sign of God’s favor. Here, it has positive and negative aspects. Everything is muddy, and the rain comes through the open gunner’s hatches on the vehicles when we are in a convoy. On the other hand, it is much cooler, and I’m sure that in a month, we will be remembering 70 degree temperatures with fondness. It’s 109 in Baghdad today, and will be 117 on Saturday…

Services at the Range

Humvee AltarI went to a range where my soldiers were qualifying on heavy machine guns and light automatic weapons. Since it was Sunday, we had services at the range. I had to conduct several services with small groups as they were available. Here’s a picture of the altar. I dropped the brushguard on our Humvee and placed the cross and communion cup on it. The sermon text was John 15:13, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Although I am a week late, it’s a fitting text for Memorial Day. Pray for the families of those who have fallen, and for those who have been called to take their places.

Pray for peace.