Saturday, June 17, 2006

Tragedy at the gates

It was a Friday like any other. Friday is an admin day (the day I work on my sermons and stuff) I was sitting in my office contemplating King Solomon and the Kings of Israel and Judah, when my phone rang.
Me: "Hello, Chaplains office Chaplain Luken speaking."
LT: "Hey Chaplain this is Lt (Soandso) could you come to the gate we have an issue."
me: "what's this all about?"
LT: "well one of our soldiers witnessed something and they are pretty shook up."
Me: "When is shift change?"
LT: "in an hour"
Me: "I'll see you then"
So I quickly ran off to eat lunch, and geared up for going to the gate. The gate is considered hostile territory so we have to wear all of our gear.
I arrived at the gate just as the next shift was gathering to go on. I got a lot of "hey chaplain, haven't seen you here in awhile." or "hey chaplain, remember me?"

After a few short conversations, the LT finds me. He tells me that he wanted me here in case someone wanted to talk. I said, "great thanks for calling me" LT said, "I got your number up on my board, I knew I would be needing it at some point."
As they gathered for their end of shift debrief, I went and talked to the first line leader of another soldier I was worried about.

There was an incident awhile back concerning a soldier belonging to this guy. A genuinely good troop with some bad circumstances (I get that way too much) I asked him how his soldier was doing, and he assured me that they were doing much better. Circumstances were turning in their favor. As I was talking to this NCO, I heard the LT say to the soldiers going off shift that I was here if anyone wanted to talk to me.

At first I didn't think anyone would want to talk. Its kinda uncool to be affected by the realities of war for some reason, and talking to me is like admitting your weak side. One soldier, however, did stay behind. His look was rather sullen, I said hey lets go over here to this room out of the way of the others. I had my assistant let the LT know that we would be able to give him a ride home.

The soldier followed me into the break room. There was no one there thankfully. I was turning to shut the door when the soldier threw his helmet and glasses down on the floor and started to weep uncontrollably. I closed the door and waited. After awhile he gathered himself together so I asked him what happened.

He told me that he was working check point one (that's the checkpoint furthest out) when a local came to the check point with their daughter. He said that he thought at first she was 5 or maybe 6, but she turned out to be 15. He said, "she was so gray chaplain, so gray and unconscious. I was thinking that if I can only get her to the CSH (that's our hospital) Then she will be alright. I knew she didn't have long so I tried to get her in as quickly as possible."

He explained how he gave a quick search and helped get her into the ambulance as quickly as possible. He said, "There was so much yelling, and she was so grey. Her parents kept yelling, yelling like I have never heard before. I cant get their screams out of my head. She was so grey and I knew that if I could just get her to the CSH. Then it happened, she released her bowels and I knew, I just knew it was over. There was nothing I could do."

"She reminded me of my own daughter. I realized that everything I was thinking up until then was so petty. What is important is the safety of my daughter. I don't care what else happens as long as she is alright. Chaplain, why did God have me see something like that? Why did I have to see that little girl die?"

I told him that God needed to show her parents that someone cared about her daughter as much as they did. Someone understood their agony even though he didn't understand their language. They did not grieve alone for their daughter that day, another father grieved with them and still does. He thinks about her and wishes he could have done more, but I believe that he gave more than any parents could have asked for that day.

It turns out that the local hospital turned them away. There is a curfew or operating hours or something like that where you can only come in at certain times. It is just another telling sign of how hard life is here for the locals. In the US something like diabetics is an illness, easily treatable and people live long happy lives despite their condition. I know, I have a good friend my age who has had this condition since we were kids. Here it is a death sentence. Proper medical treatment is not just a matter of filling out the right paperwork.

5 minutes later they just brought her body back to the gate and her parents had to take her home. He was worried about the parents, and how hard it must have been to ride all the way home with their daughter. He said to me that he had visions in their head of these parents driving all the way home with their daughter just to bury her. "They came here as their last hope and we let them down."

I let him know that he did every thing he could have done. That it is OK to be upset. Believe it or not, even in these extreme circumstances, we feel like we should be able to handle these situations. If there is one thing that we do not train our guys for enough it is this. I believe that we were not meant to be OK with death. That is why we attach words like; pain, loss, separation, sorrow, grief, and ask questions like why.


Blogger Judy Schletty said...

Hi Todd,
Sorry to hear about this soldier's difficulties. My sister, Amy, 21 yrs. younger than me, has had to deal with many more deaths than I ever did at her age. And some were not that old. Even now, I can remember Amy telling me what one of her young co-workers said to her on the phone not long before she she passed away, "Don't take anything for granted."
So now I try to remember those words when I get impatient or angry. I'm sure your words conforted the soldier who witnessed such a tragic loss. And hopefully the outpouring of love and sympathy for the young girl's family, will help them deal with the loss of their daughter. As a priest friend of our family said in his homily not long before he had both a lung and kidney transplant, "The Light is stronger than any darkness." There's the Light of God's love for us, our families, our friends, and even the kindness of strangers, and so much more. Went out to a dinner theater with my mom and one of her friends who used to be a nun and she kind of said it all -- "all of this is a prayer", as she looked around the theater after we had enjoyed the play and were finishing up our dessert.
Keep up your good work! You make us proud and help us learn how to help others. Amen.
A less serious note now. We had so much rain and wind on Friday night, the weatherman said it was comparable to hurricane winds (65 miles per hr.).
Hit downtown Mpls. pretty bad.
Have a Happy Father's Day even though you are miles and miles away.
Love and prayers, Judy and Uncle Randy

1:59 AM  
Blogger Roland said...

I don't know what to say.
But, I know that I can pray.

8:01 PM  
Blogger dlkjdfsa said...

"I believe that we were not meant to be OK with death." Sorry Chap, I'm gonna have to disagree. Death is the most natural part of life, everyone does it. If we are not OK with that we are destined to live our lives in a state of fear and misery. What I think we shouldn't be OK with is fighting a wars that are unjustified, such as the Jihad. I almost joined the Army recently. The camo covered bible on the recruiters desk is a big reason I didn't sign up. The bible scares me. I have experience enough gray people shitting there paints in America that I need not make $10 an hour to see innocent children doing it in front of my eyes.

As far as the land of the free being a place were disease is "easily treatable and people live long happy lives despite their condition." again I disagree. I've suffered from poverty for many years now. I can't afford health insurance and unfortunately America isn't as human as the other first world countries that have socialized medicine. The only way I can get medical treatment is if I show up at hospital soiling my pants looking to die in the next few minutes. I am unable to go into a hospital in this "civilized" nation with an illness that kills slowly and get treatment.

Good luck over there.

11:25 PM  
Blogger Visarian said...

Hey Chap,

My first reaction is to react to what the Rabbiislayer said, and I will say a little. There are low and no cost clinics run all over the US. As someone who made 22k a year with 2 in diapers and no health insurance at one point in my life I spent a lot of time in those places. If you really need health care, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it, you can get it. The other two comments I will drop here.

Man, I cannot even imagine what you guys in Iraq see and hear. We get some news reports, mostly negative. When they said that a couple of soldiers from Minnesota died I worried and prayed. Not just that you were safe, but that God would strengthen you and help you help others. He certainly picked the right guy for the job.

keep the faith,

7:03 AM  
Blogger dlkjdfsa said...

I live in New Orleans. I guess I might be a special case. I watched on CNN as friends died from dehydration on the highway. I waited for the black hawks to come with water and waited and waited.... The country watched, waited and wondered why.... Perhaps New Orleans isn't part of the United States

I am in error for stating that we have absolutely no public health care. I can feel a shift in that direction though. Before the storm we did indeed have one of the best Charity Hospitals in the country. We are an exceptionally poor city with plenty of gun shot traumas. I was having a problem with on of my ears and was afraid I might lose my hearing. Visarian you are right, our country won't allow people to just rot on the sidewalk. I did however see a man in New Orleans at a bus stop with an extremely debilitating condition sit in his shite for three days in the hot southern sun. This was before the storm. I question what kind of treatment I would be able to receive if I went in with Cancer. I was unable to afford the prescription they wrote out for my ear so I felt it was a waist of one of my days. Luckily my hospital, the storm of white blood cells in my body, fought off the problem.

Regards Chap

7:50 AM  
Blogger Judy Schletty said...

Hi Todd, I wrote something and it got erased. Must have pressed the wrong button. Your blogs always seem to go along with our priests' homilies on Sunday. Last week Father talked about God's unselfish love for us and how we are the Body of Christ here on earth. That love turns the stranger (including the young Iraqi girl en route to the hospital last week), into our Brother and Sister in Christ because they are the temple of the Holy Spirit. When we empty ourselves of self, when we affirm our love and respect for each other, and can forgive and challenge each other, then we can celebrate Christ's spirit working in us. Hurricane Katrina was an American disgrace and what makes it worse is that now the media is publicizing that the money we gave to hurricane victims was often used unnecessarily, instead of telling us how we can continue to help. Their next gripe is people on welfare or anybody who receives public assistance--they're all lazy and rip off the government. Now I work with and serve people who are low income in many ways and let me tell you their generosity often puts me to shame.
Keep the faith and stay strong! Love, Judy and Uncle Randy (Uncle Randy gets to see baby Conner tomorrow - Tuesday)

10:03 PM  
Blogger Chaplain Luken said...

Thanks for your heart felt replys, let me say 2 thihngs here.

1. my views on death are very biased by my christian perspective. I don't believe that God created us to die. Site references in genesis to the tree of life, coupled with Jesus' resurrection from the dead.
We have come to accept death as a part of life because we have to, but it is not a proper part of the created order. God designed us to last forever.
I realize that my position is unpopular even with most christians, but it is just my read on things. My view on death leads me to the conclusion that it should be fought at every turn. Jesus defeated death, God is the creater of order. Death is not an arrangement of order but disorder, and if death was a 'natural' part of life why would it need defeating?
2. I admit that my experience with poverty is limited. I grew up in a trailor park, and lived for awhile in the worst part of Tulsa, OK. I also admit that my experience with low-income health care is purely experiencial. first I have a lifelong friend who has always been poor and he has never been in need for diabeties medication. second another good friend of mine was admitted to the mental health wing of one of our local hospitals and the government picked up the tab because they were poor. I am not so niave to think that everyone who has poor health care has it that easy, my brother for instance will not go to get the medical attention he needs because he cannot afford to pay for it.

P.S. Oh and for the record, the bible scares me too. Probably not in the same way, but all the same we do have that in common.

10:23 PM  
Blogger Judy Schletty said...

Hi Todd, Thanks for your notes.

We pray this prayer at Mass every Sunday - We wait (here on earth) with joyful hope, for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So I believe Our Lord would like us to find some happiness here, too.

We also ask our Lord not to look at our sins, but on the faith of the church and to grant us peace and unity in His kingdom where He lives forever and ever.

I wasn't born into the lap of luxury either. But in comparison to others, I was quite fortunate to be able to go to private schools thru high school. When I got married, after two yrs. of college, my husband was in and out of the hospital at least three times a year, so I know about poverty, too. We continued to socialize with his college classmates and their wives after he graduated and they made us feel inadequate for not having all the luxuries they had. After 12 years of marriage, we finally went our separate ways. And immediately afterwards, those friends (who always bragged that our group was like family) began to treat me like I had the Bubonic Plague and I can't say that I miss them.

Now I believe it may be difficult to know joy, until we have experienced sadness.

Peace. Looking forward to the day. Better get the show on the road, as my mom would say.


7:48 AM  
Blogger Sack said...

This is why I wouldn't switch you jobs. I would have a difficult time helping soldiers get in touch with what they are feeling and helping them to feel okay about it. Thanks for all that you do for the soldiers of the Squadron. Your work is appreciated.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Judy Schletty said...

Hi Todd, Got to see your son this evening and Anne, too. Anne had supper with us at Grandma's house and then she went off to spent the evening with friends. Connor is really getting big and he seemed fascinated by all the music on the telephone (different rings). Randy and I fed him his bottle and he seemed just starved. Looking forward to seeing him again, soon. On our way to the Pine City Flea Market tomorrow and then will stop by to visit Jim and Eunice and pick some of their strawberries which are ready now. Have a good day. Already Wed. morning now in Baghdad. Love, Judy and Uncle Randy

10:48 PM  
Blogger Marie_Alice said...

I am a pastor's wife....a man at our church on Father's Day asked for his son "chip" who was supposed to be outta Iraq and going to go to school....well he is in special stuff with the service and he was asked to help find the 2 young men that were kidnapped from the service. I prayed for his son and reminded the dad that Jesus kept chip safe...and he'll do it heart is broken because chip is safe....but the men were found dead with booby traps around....That's sad....another gal Jamie was killed a few weeks ago...a medic....her humvee hit a road side bomb and she was freaked me out because the day/night before she was killed the Lord brought her on my heart to pray for her to and from 12:30pm and 2am.....I also prayed for Dom...he's a RN in Iraq now.....I don't know if this helps...but the Lord has every thing under control!!!! We just have to stay in prayer and pray for this all the "turn around"...........Blessings!!!!

6:46 PM  
Blogger Judy Schletty said...

Hi Todd, I delivered medicine after work on Friday and a woman said that one of her grandsons who is in Iraq was on TV recently. He was deployed from Camp Shelby, too. Maybe he was on a special mission or something. It is just about time to call it a day. Both Randy and I will remember you in our evening prayers and at our church services tomorrow. Since we went to a play this evening, Randy may just tune into a worship service on TV tomorrow morning.
Your son is starting to like watermellon! He has two new teeth, so I'm sure the cold watermellon feels good on his gums.
Hope you have a good church service Sunday morning (just about now in Baghdad). Called our friends in Vegas Friday night and when they said it's been 110 degrees there. Randy said they better get out their warm coats, ear muffs, mittens, etc. God bless. Love, Judy and Uncle Randy

1:00 AM  

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