300 days ago, we reported to Ft. Sheridan, Illinois. It was the first leg of what has been a very long and sometimes difficult journey. That journey is nearly over now. Thanks be to God.
A group of my soldiers declared February to be “Mustache Month.” They all grew mustaches, some fairly impressive, and others decidedly less so. They will shave them tomorrow, March 1. This morning, they gathered for a picture and a small ceremony. For some reason, they asked me if I would say a few words on this solemn occasion.
So, what does one say to mark the passing of a mustache? You can leave your thoughts in a comment if you like. Here is what I said:
“In the book of Joshua, we read about how God miraculously enabled the Israelites to cross the Jordan river. After the crossing, Joshua instructed them to gather some stones and build a memorial. He said that, in the future, when their children would ask what the stones meant, they were to tell them about how God had delivered them.
In the same way, in the years to come, when your kids see this photograph and ask ‘Dad, who are all these people with these really bad mustaches?’ You can tell them about some hard times, some good times, but most of all, about some of the best people that you ever knew. May God bless you all.”
I have to say something tomorrow for the shaving ceremony. Any thoughts?
It has been raining all afternoon. The rain turns the clay into mud that has the consistency of peanut butter. I think I’ll sit in the trailer and watch an old Hitchcock film tonight. First, I’ll give a little update about my last two weeks.
I just got back back from a trip north near Saddam’s ancestral home. It reminded me of eastern Colorado with flat brown land and mountains that were visible in the distance. My trip back was a three and one-half hour ride in the back of an Air Force cargo plane. I discovered that the body armor does a very good job of putting pressure on one’s bladder.
The week before was the worst attack that we’ve had since our arrival. We spent the time huddled on the floor waiting for it to be over. It was another opportunity for prayer and spiritual growth. The good news is that we have begun to turn in equipment and prepare for our departure. That is certainly a good feeling.
I’ve been back for a week now, and there have been some changes. One change is that my trailer is surrounded by blast walls that are 12 feet high. These concrete monoliths are all over the country. I can imagine some future archaeologist wondering about the purpose of these great stone artifacts, and debating about whether we would have, given time, reached the sophisticated level of the Easter Island culture.
Two reminders of home today: first, an Air Force captain approached me at breakfast and said that I was his freshman philosophy professor at OBU. It would have been the first year that I was an adjunct there. Second, the Oklahoma National Guard moved into Baghdad. It’s good to see the Thunderbird patch again.
I’m back after enduring another three days of travel. After we arrived at Ali al Salim Air Base in Kuwait, a captain that I was walking with said, “It seems strangely reassuring to be back.” I replied, “You’re right, and that’s more than a little bit sad.” We have all become used to being here, and now the familiarity is reasurring in its own way. We find the familiar to be comfortable, while the unfamiliar is uncomfortable. It prompts me to wonder what else we accept only because it is familiar and comfortable. Might this help to explain our still mostly segregated churches and predominantly male leadership?
Leave was certainly good, but it’s over now. I’m headed back this morning. I apologize to everyone that I couldn’t see while I was home. There just wasn’t enough time to everything I needed to do. I will be back home sometime in May. Until then, pray for peace.
After three days of traveling, I arrived home yesterday evening. I sure have missed Sheri and Rachael, but I didn’t know how much I’ve missed other things also. Those are things like having a bathroom in the same building as your bedroom, showers that are big enough to turn around in, and being able to just jump in the car and drive anywhere you like. We don’t have any big plans for the next two weeks. I’m going to OBU on Friday. If any of you are in town this week, it would be nice to see you.
It’s finally time for my leave. I fly from Baghdad to Kuwait today, and probably on back to Oklahoma, via Ireland, Atlanta, and Dallas, tomorrow. I appreciate your prayers for safe travels and a wonderful reunion.
I was surprised to open my trailer door Friday morning and see snow. I never expected to see snow in Baghdad. Evidently, it was the first snow in a century. All the Americans were walking around singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” or some variation. The Iraqis were just staring. Some of the Iraqis didn’t have a word for it; they just called it “white rain.” People spoke of it being a sign from God, but I never could find out what they thought it signified. I tried to explain that it couldn’t be a sign if it didn’t signify something, but I’m not sure they were interested in the philosophical issues.
I’ve been giving suicide prevention briefings to everyone in the battalion. The suicide rate in the Army is now the highest it has been in at least twenty years. It’s a difficult time for everyone. I have one more company to brief, and they are located in the Green Zone. I’ll travel there, talk with them, then come back to sign out on leave. I should be home this time next week. That will be the Christmas present that I really wanted this year.
I lost my pianist for chapel last week. He is the division surgeon for the First Cavalry Division. For some reason, he declined to extend his tour to keep playing for my chapel service. So, I’ve been moving through the customary stages of grief: from denial, anger, and bargaining, to where I’m at now, which is some combination of depression and acceptance. I was forced to play the piano myself this morning, forcing even more Soldiers to suffer for their country.