Dear Mia (and Friends),

 

I have waited now several months for the inspiration to write another letter.  That inspiration has, of yet, tarried.  Therefore, I am forced to labor without inspiration. Due to Mom’s continued insistence that there is an audience for this sort of thing and those who have written notes of encouragement I will give it my best.

 

I am very busy.  As a Chaplain that is both good and bad.  On the sunny side, busyness demonstrates that you have won the trust and confidence of your soldiers and that there are men who are hungry for spiritual growth. On the darker side busyness is a reflection that soldiers are having problems or that the unit has experienced acute combat stress.  In regard to the busyness, unless I am sleeping, I rarely go 30 minutes without a request for interaction.  The more time I make for spending with soldiers the busier I get.

Between regular patrols with my soldiers, 4 weekly fellowship meetings at various troop locations, a weekly chapel service, four to five hours of daily counseling, and a host of other people engagements, I am fortunate if I am able to get six hours of sleep a day. Keep in mind that we all work seven days a week for months at a time. There are no rest and recuperation periods except for the two week break we get to visit our families, which, ironically, we are charged leave for.

 

Surprisingly, I find myself to be quite happy.  I have a genuine enjoyment of people that seems to grow rather than diminish.  To a large degree, I find myself energized by people.  There is a point of diminishing returns but for the most part, I am more often energized by others than depleted by them.  For this, I am certainly grateful.  While the Army has become more and more automated with officers spending increasing time in front of their computer screens or creating power point slides, my primary responsibility is to personally engage my soldiers.  Given my disposition I could hardly ask for a better job than the one I have right now. 

 

What is somewhat puzzling about my enjoyment of being a squadron chaplain is the fact that I don’t have much measurable impact by traditional ministry measures.  On a weekly basis only 30 or so soldiers out of more than 600 take part in any organized spiritual gathering.  All my attempts at sustained discipleship have petered out within a few months.  While this is frustrating to me, it has not taken away my joy in the work.

 

What does make the job fulfilling are the countless soldiers who have come up to me and thanked me for some counseling that helped their marriage, or for some comfort that helped them get through some hard times or most often for my presence with them that made their day more enjoyable.  Every time I am tempted to despair at my lack of spiritual influence, some soldier will come and say to me, “hey, Chaplain, I just wanted you to know that my wife and I have decided to start attending church together,” or, “Chaplain, I wanted to thank you for turning me back on to Jesus.  I am reading my Bible again and I now have hope for a different kind of future,” or, “Chaplain, my girlfriend and I decided to quit having sex until we’re married and we want you to marry us and give your blessing.” Most of the time, I am generally surprised to hear these comments.  I think to myself, “Wow, I didn’t thing he was even listening or we only talked a couple of times.”

 

I cannot explain why but in my soldiers’ eyes the single most important thing I do is accompany them when they go out on patrol.  For one, patrolling is generally quite boring and I bring some fresh conversation to the table.  The other, I believe, is the fact that soldiers sense that I value them enough to risk some danger to be with them. Whatever the reason I remain genuinely surprised at the regular and overt appreciation soldiers demonstrate when I accompany them on patrol.  I do not fully understand the dynamic but I love the fact that such a simple action creates so much good will.

 

Considering the positive impact of patrolling with my soldiers it is ironic that some men within the Chaplain Corps have tried to discourage Chaplains from going “outside the wire.”  They have argued that it is too dangerous for Chaplains to be out there taking unnecessary risks.  During our first four months my Brigade Chaplain discouraged me from going out so frequently.  When I politely declined the advice I was given an order that I could go on no more than two patrols a week because anything more was an unnecessary risk. 

 

Of all people, it seems that the Chaplain should be the one most happy and hopeful in confronting risk, all the more so given the fact that 70% of the men I serve with face the same risk on a daily basis.  I was so embarrassed when my Brigade Chaplain explained to my commander that I was too precious an asset to be subjected to such risk. The reason this was particularly embarrassing is that my commander and almost all other leaders spend far more time “outside the wire” than I spend.  I received much ribbing from my fellow officers about my inflated value that somehow had made me more indispensable than any other officer in the squadron.  Needless to say, as soon as there was a change in leadership I reverted to my old “risky” ways.

 

I think that it is important to point out that it is not nearly as dangerous or as exciting as it might appear on TV.  In seven months we have lost one soldier, one translator and approximately 40 soldiers have been wounded.  There are frequent near misses but for the most part only a few soldiers experience any real anxiousness about the danger that awaits them.  Most of us feel that slight anxious feeling only when we prepare to go on our mid-tour leave or to go home. For some reason, soldiers like most humans tend to fear the worst when the good is most nearly at hand.

 

Soldiers are more challenged by the daily monotony and routine of their missions than the danger.  The re-enlistment NCO’s have found the best time to ask soldiers to re-up is after a fire fight. Nothing sends morale escalating like a real opportunity for soldiers to confront danger and attack the enemy.   I have been in two fire fights. Although we could here bullets flying over and around us no US casualties were sustained in either skirmish.  These fights energized the soldiers for days.  I am certain that the majority of soldiers if offered the choice between a dangerous but engaging mission and a safe but monotonous one would choose the danger every time. I know I would. It is strange and probably stupid but I find that fear and risk are, for lack of a better word, invigorating.

 

The biggest frustration that most soldiers deal with is that they seldom know who the enemy is.  The vast majority of attacks on our soldiers are from snipers and road side bombs. In both cases it is exceedingly difficult to identify the culprit.  At times it feels like we are on an extended Easter egg hunt.  We are trying to catch the Easter bunny and discover his eggs before they blow us up.  When we do get hit, there is usually a huge explosion and then quiet, no one to shoot at, no one to attack.  When we do catch the insurgents we treat them with such overt kindness and good will that they have almost no fear of us.  We are in a combat zone as soldiers where aggression is discouraged more than for a US police officer. No exaggeration, we afford the insurgents more protections than we assure US citizens.  It is maddening and infuriating beyond explanation.  We have no idea why this occurs.  All we know is that we catch people with explosive material, bombs, and weapons, and two weeks after we catch them we are informed that they have been so free due to some procedural mishap or lack of evidence.

 

Our “kindness” is seen as foolishness in the larger Iraqi community because they suffer the repercussions of thes criminals being set loose and as despicable weakness and cowardice by the insurgents themselves who are emboldened by our mercy.  The only way to fix Iraq at this point is to start all over.  We need to disarm the populace, (we allow every family to keep an AK 47), declare martial law, and institute summary execution for anyone breaking the laws.  It appears to me that we want to fix Iraq without inconveniencing  anyone but US soldiers. The result is that many people on all sides get killed.

 

We have noticed in our sector a trend which is present throughout Iraq. When U.S. forces attempt to rectify problems we frequently only succeed in stirring the hornet’s nest which leads not to peace and stability but more killing and mayhem. We go after the Sunni and the Shiite take advantage.  We go after the Shiite militia and we really create havoc because the Sunni are even more brutal.  US soldiers have been asked to separate two warring gangs of street fighters who happen to hate them (U.S. soldiers) as well and break up the fight without hurting anyone.  The net result is that everyone gets hurt.

 

The ambiguity and clear lack of direction and momentum combined with a recent fragmentary order telling us that our one year deployment is going to be extended for a couple of more months is exasperating.  Politicians fly into the green zone where most of the high command resides in relative comfort and security and they make decisions and draw conclusions that are contrary to what all of us on the ground know to be true.  The real issues are not discussed.  Our policy is a never ending cycle of half measures that leave on the ground commanders constrained. If Iraq is so important to us then we need to institute the draft, take the country over, take control of the oil production, declare martial law, and rule by force.  All the other half measures are, in my ‘umble opinion, doomed to failure.

 

It bothers most soldiers when they hear the media report that we are losing the war.  The reality is we seldom feel as if we are fighting the war.  One quarter of the present troops would be enough to completely destroy all of Iraq.  At this point in time, in this war, we are loath to kill. That fact is generally a good and noble sentiment.  The problem is that it is hard to shape the outcome without the real threat of force. Since we entered the country as liberators not conquerors it is much harder to justify the type of collateral destruction that it would take to reign in the violence.

 

The question is not whether or not we can win the war.  If only it were that easy! The question is can we somehow convince the Iraqis to work together for a common good without using excessive force.  Both Sunni and Shiite hate the Kurds as do the Turks and Iranians. Although Muslim the Kurds are a different ethnic group.  The Sunni and Shiite hate each other. Each religious and ethnic grouping is made of up of tribes that all mutually distrust each other. Even within tribes themselves there is much mutual distrust among families. Stir in the mix hostile and scheming neighbors and gross corruption at every level of life as well as a people who have been severely psychologically damaged living under a totalitarian state for almost 30 years and you have a situation that appears from a my standpoint to be almost hopeless. The Iraqis would have been better off had we just come in and taken over the country and run it as a US protectorate. 

 

While the overall situation here is dark and discouraging. There are rays of light. On the whole our soldiers show amazing good will toward the Iraqi people.  Though hardly a soldier feels any long term good is resulting from our effort they, nevertheless, go out and do a great job every day.  I love that about our soldiers.  The professionalism of our soldiers is truly remarkable. It is important for those at home to remember that our soldiers treat Iraqis far better than Iraqis treat Iraqis.  The Iraqis are much more condescending and threatening with each other. 

 

Another fascinating dynamic to watch is how our soldiers treat the Iraqi translators. For the most part the translators are adopted into the platoons they serve and treated as friends. Not long ago one of our translators was killed and many of the soldiers, even the most hardened, wept over his death.  What surprised me was that the other translators did not seem nearly as disturbed by the death as we were.

 

The translator who was killed was named Joseph.  He was my favorite translator. He was respectful, intelligent, and tough.  He was trying to earn enough money to get his family out of Iraq.  Two days before he was killed he was engaged to a lovely young lady.  His whole platoon was so happy for him that they encouraged him to take an extra 4 days of paid leave. He refused because he said that the platoon was his family and that he had a job to do. The day he returned after sharing his joy with all of us he was killed by a  roadside bomb.  We wept for him as he left us all with nothing but happy memories.

 

I will complete this ramble by sharing a bit of detail about ministry and conclude with a few prayer requests.  This year has been totally different from the year I spent in Mosul with 296.  The last time I was here I worked with a Battalion in which the vast majority of soldiers worked from 8 to 6.  They had very predictable schedules.  Everyone in the battalion was free at basically the same time. Thus, it was possible to develop a spiritual routine in a central location that allowed the majority of those who wanted to participate to be apart.  I also had a chapel of my own.  I was able to start a spiritual core group which eventually grew and was the foundation for a thriving spiritual community.  We spent hours together each week in work, prayer, study, worship, and fellowship.  The strong sense of community and expectation created a general atmosphere of excitement and joy.  We looked forward to coming together, to encouraging one another, and to ministering to one another.  As a result there was great spiritual fruit both corporately and individually.

 

While I have generally found an equal measure of spiritual potential in my squadron I have had a hard time creating a structure to take advantage of that potential.  The biggest impediment to spiritual work in my squadron has been the operational tempo.  There is no predictable schedule. Every day is different.  Every week is different.  In the same week soldiers work day shifts, night shifts, and in between shifts. The one truism is that nothing is predictable.

 

Since we don’t have telephones and soldiers are always on call it is very difficult to plan anything.  There is not a single sacred moment anywhere in the week to include Sundays. I have tried all sorts of times to match schedules and it most frequently feels like I am chasing my tail.  The net result is that it has been difficult to build community and momentum.  I have many excellent conversations with soldiers throughout the day and week but our communal interaction has been sporadic.  The lack of loving community is a huge spiritual impediment to growth.  The only way to build community that I know of is regular time together as a group.  This has simply not been possible.

 

The lack of spiritual community not only hampers discipleship efforts but evangelism as well.  It is very hard to do any effective evangelism apart from a thriving spiritual community.  Without the community of faith Christianity lacks its greatest witness.  Additionally, the multitude of personalities and gifts that a church provides allows a person much greater opportunity for growth and incorporation.

 

For several months in the fall there was a window of opportunity with the squadron staff officers.  For almost three months we met twice a week in the evenings.  There were 12 captains who were regulars.  Initially, there was great excitement and expectation and many of these men really focused on examining themselves and pursuing God.  However, the group mired down when the demands of Christ become too personal.  Several of the men were sexually involved with women who were not yet there wives.  Others confessed to being fairly satisfied with there present circumstances and most ended up confessing that they were just not ready to give Jesus the reigns.  As a result, the last month has seen the group lose much momentum and expectation.

 

The initial excitement we shared as a group was lost as the majority of the group decided to remain in a holding pattern. 

 

Please pray for Paul Roup, John Davis, Adam Rogers, Damon Armeni, Adam DeWinne, Eric Fedak, and John Fluery.  All of these men have demonstrated moments of real spiritual transparency and hunger but seem to now be stuck in spiritual lethargy.  Pray for me to know how to exhort them and pray that they might be brought to such a level of discomfort that they might press on with Christ.  Don Nunemaker , Jerry Resmondo, Micah Baker, Adam Grim and Kurt Rowland thus far have shown evidence of bearing good fruit.  They have all grown and appear to have made real commitments to putting Christ first in their lives. Pray that they might finish well and that God would complete the good work that He has begun in their lives.

 

Please pray for Steve Ryan, Chris Mills, Roger Burwell, Roger Hunsecker, Stanley Jones, Morgan Knighton, Scott Hertling, Daniel Pesature, Patrick Patterson, David Forney, Seth Curtis, and Don Mowrey.  These are a few of the men with whom I have formed close relationship.  I could write the name of dozens of men who could use your prayer.  As the Spirit leads, I ask you to pray that God would complete the good work that He has begun in each of these men’s lives.

 

Finally, please pray for me as I prepare for my two week leave with Mia and the children.  We have been unofficially informed that our tour has been extended by several months.  In the past four years I have been separated from the family for 28 months and counting.  I had hoped to return home in June but now we are being told that it might be October which is just a ridiculously long time with four small children.  Please pray that our two weeks together will be filled with delight and that God would continue to watch over Mia and the children during the long separations.

 

Mia is a phenomenal wife and mother.  I have never heard a single complaint from her. The kids have been good sports as well. Paschal loves to talk on the telephone so we stay pretty well connected. He recently recommended I get out of the Army.  I asked him what he thought I should do and he said, “Why don’t you become a doctor or lawyer or something.”  Mia told me that the Masada and Jerusha often cry for me to come home when they get tired. Please pray that they would know the comfort of Jesus in their young hearts.

 

Finally, I wish I had time to respond to all the nice notes I have received.  To all of you who have reached out to me this year and to my family I offer you heartfelt thanks. I am humbled by your thoughts and kindness as I know your life is probably as harried as ours. May the Lord bless you richly.

 

With Affection,

David

Baghdad, Iraq

1 February 2007