Tag Archives: m-16 rifle

Going to War: Ministry amid Training

Two years ago my group of Individual Augmentees was leaving Ft Jackson South Carolina on the way to Kuwait, which was our final training site before going on to our assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and other locations in the CENTCOM Area of Operations.  In the two weeks prior to our departure  we received training in a number of areas, especially weapons which I was exempted from as a Chaplain, though I did fire the crew served weapons for the fun of it.  I wasn’t always a chaplain and have a hard time not enjoying a Mk 19 Automatic Grenade Launcher, M-240 series machine gun or the classic .50 caliber Machine Gun.  Since I used to call in 155mm Artillery fire these are little guns, but still fun to play with.  When you are chaplain and are exempted from actual training it does not mean that it is time to go to the Food Court at the Post Exchange to chow down on Pizza and Ice Cream.  Ministry abounds if you want to go hang out.  One of the fun things about hanging out with Navy guys unfamiliar with small arms is to watch them trying to clean them and get them past an Army armorer in an Arms Room.  To see the looks of shock as my fellow sailors brought back their M-16s and M-9s for more cleaning.  They had not yet learned the dirty little secret that a good armorer can find things dirty on a weapon that you didn’t even know existed.    It was at this point with me calmly pointing out tricks of the trade that a physician who I had gotten to know looked at me and said: “Chaplain, you were in the Army weren’t you?”  He looked at me as several others who had just had their weapons rejected stopped what they were doing and waited for my response.

I was kind; I acknowledged that indeed I had served in the Army and that I was not always a Chaplain.  I then looked at the physician and said “Give me the weapon.”  I took it from him, broke it down and gave a quick lecture on how to clean a weapon of the M-16 series.  The dirty secret on these things is that you almost never get your weapon through the inspector on the first try.  There are more places for carbon to hide on an M-16 than places you can find Waldo.  Thus a good inspector knowing that he has a bunch of novices coming through simply rejects every weapon.  I think that it builds character.  I showed those around me all the little places where carbon was hiding on this officer’s weapon and how to get it clean to pass inspection.  Knowing such things gives you additional “street cred” as a chaplain as you go off to war.  It shows that you care about what your guys have to do enough to teach them.  This is really vital when your Navy or Air force guys are training with the Army.  It opened doors to ministry with these men and women.  So if any of my deploying friends need some pointers on the care and feeding of an M-16 let me know.

Additionally, ministry seems to happen when you stay engaged with people.  I was blessed that two additional chaplains, Commander Kyle Fauntleroy and Command Dave Rodriguez who were heading off to manage the “Warrior Transition” program in Kuwait.  Together we figured out how best to care for our sailors including how we did services as well as counseling.  We had a pretty good amount of business.  It seems that life and tragedy happens even in training. We had a young hospital corpsman who was diagnosed with Leukemia during our first week there. Both the Navy chain of command and Army trainers expected us, in between and after training to make sure that she and her family were cared for.   Other sailors found out that their husbands, wives or significant others were cheating on them.  Still others were hurt in training accidents and could not deploy.  In every case one or more of us took care of the sailor in question.  It was a community of individuals that for a brief two weeks began to gel together despite the fact that when the training was completed we would go separate directions, some for more training at other bases and others directly to the Middle East.

Apart from the young woman with Leukemia the most notable thing that I got to do was baptize a young Navy Reserve Intelligence Officer who had been raised in the Episcopal Church but who’s parents had forgotten to have him baptized…oops.  The subject came up when he became engaged to a Catholic girl. He needed to prove that he was a baptized Christian, only problem when he went to his parish they could find no record.  So he inquired of his parents when he learned of the “oops we should have done that” situation.  I like to baptize people, they way we do it you don’t have to wear hip-waders or make up anything because it is all in the Prayer Book so it’s not that hard.   So I did it on our last Sunday morning with his fiancé present.  It was really cool.  The young officer had the bunk next to me in the barracks so we had gotten to know each other during conversations as we checked or put together equipment, packed gear, washed clothes or went to chow.  He was very smart and friends as well as unassuming.  When asked what he did in civilian life he simply said that he worked intelligence and foreign policy in DC.  I figured as most would infer that the young man was with the CIA or DIA or some other outfit.  We saw each other a couple of times as Nelson and I traveled about Al Anbar Province the last time in the Wal-Mart sized chow hall number three at Al Asad as we waited for a flight out west.  After I returned and was having my PTSD meltdown I found that the young man was then Senator Barak Obama’s senior National security adviser.  We had stayed in touch in the following months but finding out this was a surprise. We have remained in touch and he now serves as Chief of Staff for the National Security Council.  I think it’s cool that he is up there working with General Jones on the NSC.  He’s a good man who despite his high position remains active in the Naval Reserve.  He is doing well in his marriage and remains in contact with guys like me.  It makes me even more prayerful for him as he advises the NSC and President.   It was one of those moments when I knew that the Deity Herself had placed me in a person’s life that due to his office needs prayer more than we can imagine.

Ministry of all types continued to happen our entire time at Fort Jackson, we dealt with family deaths, birth notifications and medical emergencies.  We counseled, prayed and assisted sailors in need and looked out for each other.  Nelson was engaged not only receiving training but also giving it having run something like 400 convoys in Afghanistan.  He ended up as one of the honor graduates and won a leadership award from the Army staff.  It is really great to have an assistant of Nelson’s caliber when you go to war.  As we got ready to leave Ft Jackson my young friend went off for more specific training at another base with many of the other Intelligence Officers and specialists.   Nelson and I packed up our gear, stacked it and helped load trucks which would take us to our flight.

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Going to War: Interlude July 4th 2007

This is the second installment of my account of my account of mine and RP2 Nelson Lebron’s deployment to Iraq in 2007.

Our mobilization proceeded the next couple of days as we received our immunizations, were issued DCUs and other clothing needed for the deployment.  Nelson and I of course were already well outfitted by our unit, EOD Group Two.  In spite of this we drew additional uniforms, brown t-shirts, socks and a host of miscellaneous gear.  Thankfully as I have mentioned, EOD had outfitted us well including boots of our choosing, not the standard issue boot being provided to the rest of the sailors.  I had a pair of Blackhawks and a pair of Magnum 5.11’s, both much more comfortable than those issued.  Wills and powers of attorneys were drawn up by JAG officers, our “page 2s” the record of who we wanted notified in the event of our demise were verified and updated, new dog tags ordered and a myriad of forms filled out, sometimes for the second or third time.  In the weeks prior we had completed a fair number of online courses on Navy Knowledge Online to orient us to operations, health and safety issues and for Nelson classes on the M-16A2 and M9 Pistol.  The 4th was a day off, probably more for the staff then for 120 or so of us getting ready to go overseas.

After completing everything we needed on the 3rd I went home and Judy and I took in the Norfolk Tides game against the Syracuse Sky Chiefs at Harbor Park.  Before the game I chatted with Tides General Manager Dave Rosenfield and let him know that I would be missing the rest of the season as I was going to Iraq.  Dave is a good guy and since at the time things were not going well, we were experiencing heavy casualties which were being displayed on every broadcast news outlet available to humanity, I could see the distress in his face as he told me to “please take care of yourself and be safe.”   My usher buddy Skip, a retired Navy Chief and a number of vendors, Kenny the Pretzel guy and others wished me well.  As the National Anthem Played that night I stood at attention, my Tides cap over my heart as the anthem was played.  It was one of the most emotional anthems I have ever experienced.  It was not that it was sung by a star or even played that well, but it was that I was going to Iraq to serve in an unpopular war, ordered by a once post 9-11 popular President whose star had fallen because of how Iraq was turning out.  The war was presented as lost and a disaster and here I was getting ready to go after volunteering to go to Al Anbar Province, the most contested and violent part of Iraq.  The surge was just beginning and the Anbar Awakening was yet to be noticed by anyone. Al Qaida Iraq and other insurgents were taking a severe toll in Al Anbar.  I had been told by Chaplain Maragaret Kibben that the mission was to get out bewyond the wire when no one was getting to take care of the advisers.  I imagined being convoys and my vehiilce being hit, and at the same time still knew that I had to go.  Tears were in my eyes as I mouthed the words to the Star Spangled Banner looking at the flag flying above the scoreboard above right center field.  Judy stood next to me.  It was then that some 26 years of service came down to the real world.  Even though I had been to the Middle East numerous times and even served on a boarding team in the Northern Arabian Gulf, this was different.  I was preparing to go “into the shit” as my Vietnam era brothers would say.  In fact I was going out not with a unit, but as the first Navy Chaplain to serve directly with advisers since that war accompanied by the most prepared assistant in the world.  I was pretty sure that I was the most prepared Chaplain for this assignment, I was as ready as one could be for deployment.  I was physically ready, in some of the best shape of my life, I had graduated done everything that I could thing to do to be ready.   I had even  made sure that I read Chapter 5 of the History of Army Chaplains in Vietnam as part of the massive amount of  reading that I did  for the deployment.  Part of this chapter dealt with those men who served in this capacity then.  We watched the fireworks show that followed the game and

The Tides would go on to win the game 4-3 and I would go home with Judy.  The 4th was spent continuing to get ready even though I was theoretically off for the holiday.  There are always checks and double checks to ensure that everything is just right when you deploy.  This was really hard on Judy as she watched me getting ready.  When you deploy, especially to a combat zone there is a certain amount of emotional detachment that most couples go through.  It is a form of self preservation, you tend not to want to ask or deal with the hard questions of what happens if….

Of course Judy had in the previous months insisted that I take on additional life insurance which I did, just in case I would get schwacked in Iraq. I’m rather superstitious and felt that while this was a good move to protect Judy that it might be inviting trouble for me.  We had of course talked a bit about the deployment; I was much more excited than she could ever be.  The lot of the military wife in wartime is to endure her husband’s choice to serve their country in time of war.  As deployments draw closer the emotional distance widens even as emotions deepen.  It is the inverse of what happens when emotions deepen as people come together.  That last 4th of July was one of being alone together even as we went to of friend Pat and Jim’s house for a cook out.  Following that we went home and spent a quiet evening before going to bed.  My DCUs from EOD hung on my closet door as we turned off the light and spent a fitful night sleep.

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