Saturday, January 28, 2006

Safety day

Yesterday was safety stand down day. I realize that this sounds important, but it turned out to be yet another snore fest. Maybe I was just surly because I gave up a trip to the mall to go to safety day. I actually had the option to go to either one this time, but SPC Cowell wanted to go to safety day. (eyes rolling) I will admit that it was a good idea, safety day that is, it just turned out to be another program that was done half heartedly.

We started early. All of HHT (headquarters headquarters troop) was gathered at the TOC (tactical operations center.) Most everyone was milling about saying the obligatory good mornings. Safety day started with a powerpoint(I am beginning to believe that power point was invented by the devil himself) presentation on environmental injuries and environmental things we need to know at JRTC (joint readiness training center.) The big thing I took away is separate your trash at JRTC. WOW I realize that the Army can be picky but these guys are seriously ridiculous.

Next we moved on to the "critters of Iraq." Did you know that they have 7 different types of deadly snakes and 4 different types of deadly scorpions and no antivenom anywhere closer than Iran. What is the deal? Is antivenom that difficult to obtain that after 3 years there we still can't put our hands on any. I guess it is just economical, not that many people actually get bit or stung by venomous things here. Key point for me stay away from the critters. I actually know a guy whose hobby in the US is catching venomous snakes, and when he went to Iraq he continued his hobby. Now I am not one who is terrified of snakes, but I do have a healthy respect for them. I guess another crazy pastime in Iraq is to catch scorpions and camel spiders and have insect wars. The scorpion wins 99% of the time so I hear. Sounds interesting but no thank you.

After being freaked out a little more we moved on to vehicle safety. There we went over things we already know like where to safely place the jack, and what to do in case of a roll over, wear your seat belt, yadda yadda yadda. At this point I thankfully got a phone call for a real world mission. Not that I was happy to deliver bad news, but I feel some sense of purpose when I am doing something that only I can do. What is strange is that the news no matter what it is, does not help much with knowing how to predict how the encounter will go over with the soldier.

The Army system is just that a system. It is cold and blind. It does not care if you have a family, and it does not care if you have other commitments. That may be the hardest part of this job. If anything ever happened to my grandmother or my aunts, uncles, nieces or nephews I couldn't come home. Don't take this wrong I am not airing my complaints, I am just attempting to spell out for you the situation that some of these soldiers are faced with. I know that if something were to happen to my nephew Damon for instance, it would devastate me to not be able to come back home to be with my family at that time.

There does seem to be some purpose for this system. The army like a family with tons of brothers and sisters. If one sibling gets something, I guarantee you that everyone will want the same thing. The purpose of having a standard regulation then is to help accomplish our mission. It will amaze you how dependent the army is upon ordinary people. At times it seems like the army is just a big machine, but the moving parts of that machine are people. If too many parts go missing the machine just doesn't work, and the job doesn't get done.

I say all this to say that I understand why, why the regulation only allows you to go home for certian emergencies for immediate family only. (father, mother, brother, sister, wife, children, to include step and in-law, but it still sucks. And it is impossible to explain why it is like that to someone who just wants to be there for their family. I guess that is part of the reason the Army has me here, to help cover that gap. That being said hopefully you all will more fully understand the sacrifice paid by these great Americans I am privilidged to serve with.

Jesus be my strength and my shield. Help me serve both those who know you and those who do not. For those soldiers who do know you help me to remind them to take some comfort in the knowledge that those who love Jesus will be reunited. Also that this place is only a shadow of the eternal, and that those who have died in Christ now live in the light having escaped the shadow. For those soldiers who do not know you send your Holy Spirit to light the way to a relationship with you. Let me be your voice to a generation crying out for you. Though they deny you with their lips their hearts know you and long for you. Lord help me to bring understanding, and prepare me to help these soldiers carry their pain. Amen

Well we leave for JRTC tomorrow so I may be physically unable to post for awhile. Please check back from time to time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The waiting

I heard a quote from somewhere that war is like: "Extensive periods of boredom intersperced with brief moments of sheer terror." Army life is much like that. Today we wait... and tomorrow we wait... and probably the next day we will wait as well. Then the day after that there will not be enough time in the day. And, that will go on for the next few days like that. There will be so much to do that I will be pulling my hair out, and then I will be back to waiting. If only there was a way to do some prep for the busy time.

I have been thinking today that the waiting may actually be a blessing. It gives me time to talk to my soldiers. Almost forces me to do so. It is at these times, the waiting, we both have time to talk. It is interesting what you will hear from people when they have time to say anything. When the business is taken out of the language and all there is left, is whatever is inside. Business is easy, inside is not so easy.

Usually it starts out with dumb jokes. I like dumb jokes and I think everyone else does as well, if they didn't no would bother to remember them. Then sometimes, sometimes they just come out with statements that I wonder about. Statements like; "I used to be a catholic-lutheran-etc...," or "I don't believe in orgainized religion," or even really good ones like, "chaplain how do you know the bible is true."

Honest I am not making this up. Sometimes this job is just too easy. Soldiers want to know about God. They have a genuine respect at least for my position, which lends itself to a respect for God at least around me. (And in case you are wondering I don't think I got this last part backward. Respect for officers is easy to find here, respect for God not as easy) In the civillian world people are afforded a luxury, that luxury is not believing in something. Here soldiers are looking for something to believe in, they are looking for a grand purpose in this whole war thing. One soldier asked me last week, "...are we fighting evil forces in Iraq?" I told him that officially our government takes the neutral side on the whole good vs evil thing.

His question really got me to thinking. Is this war really a good vs evil fight? From a christian standpoint I believe that it is just that. I know I am walking out on a plank here. My position doesn't really afford me the luxury of a bias. But, if I have learned nothing else from my friend Joel(treading lightly is not his strong suit; if you dont believe me visit his blog), we can't sit here and believe that we are not there for a purpose. A purpose that is good. If we believed that we were there for evil purposes I think my office would be full every day. That being said these guys are still looking for a grand purpose in their involvement in this war. We seem to have the support of the American people, it makes me proud to serve when I see all the support out there. In this there is some purpose, to keep the fighting away from us, to keep the war out of our back yards. To enforce peace so hopefully my son will not be sitting at a keyboard typing notes to his wife and hoping for packages in the mail.

That is great but there needs to be something more. It is strange to be so close to history as to be able to touch it. I read stories about what my grandfather did in WWII and I am in awe. The dedication, the sacrifice, the very shaping of history at his fingertips. It is a great story, my grandmother told me the story when I was 12 and more than 25 years later I can still remember the details. They were not just fighting a war, they were conquering evil. An evil regime at its worst, you will be hard pressed to find someone to disagree with me on this point.

So I ask are we fighting that same evil today? Is terrorism the new face of evil risen from the mold of Hitler and Stalin? Who is this enemy we are fighting? Is it just a culture difference or is it Religious extremeists? That is the answer that everyone always tells me. If so it seems wierd to me that an areligious army is fighting a religious one. A lot of the guys I talk to do not want to hurt anyone, but they are protectors first and foremost. They will kill to protect those they believe to be innocents.

I used to think the guys in the movie Blackhawk down were right. "It's about the guy next to you." It is about taking care of each other, when the bullets start flying we are there to cover each other's back. That sounds great for hollywood, but it doesn't make up much of a purpose. I hate to go out on another limb and contradict a popular book and movie, but purpose has to have much more in it than covering your buddy.

It is about the protector. Why does the sheep dog protect the sheep from the wolves? It is more than just training. The sheep dog does it because it cares about the sheep, and I believe that it also knows that the sheep cannot protect themselves from the wolves. The sheep dog is there because he knows that the wolf is there.

We are here because the wolf is out there.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

SPC Cowell

To everyone who doesn't know him, I would like to introduce my assistant SPC Cowell. He serves as sort of a combination of head usher/ bodyguard. He helps me with my religious services and some of my soldier counseling. He also takes care of our equipment and keeps me in touch with what is going on with our base line troopers. I have allowed him permission to post on here so you just might hear something from him from time to time.

Anyway together we make the Unit ministry Team. That just sounds cool doesn't it? We are learning some stuff together like a couple of weeks ago we went to Combat Lifesaver class together. We learned how to do some basic medical lifesaving treatments. It was kinda funny seeing as I spent my first 16 years, wow did I just say 16 years!, as a combat medical NCO. I tried to explain to them that I already knew this stuff, but in the end my answer was, "check the box hooah!" Just do it and get it over with even though you already know exactly what the training entails. In fact in a past military life I used to teach the class. The information in the class was nothing new but it was still fun to go and practice up on old skills. And it is nice to know that my assistant knows those skills as well.

Just a little sample of the fun, fun, fun training we are getting here. A few weeks before that we went to Combatives class. This was an interesting hand to hand training class. Now back when I joined the Army back in 19..*cough* aitteysiks. We had hand to hand combat training using our weapon as a club, "BUTT STROKE TO THE HEAD!!!!"

Now this new training we had was nothing like that old training at all. It was actually very physical and very cool. We learned how to handle ourselves in close quarters combat with various weapons and in various situations. At one point it got somewhat redicilous how many things he was using as a weapon. It was more like a martial arts training event than anything else. We learned stuff like the Judo flip with body armor on, very cool. If I remember correctly I landed on my back hard a few more times than I would have liked to. Which in turn caused my head to feels a little spinny, but I was glad to have the training--oh and if Cowell had poked me in the throat one more time -grrrrrrr :) end of the day we both learned quite a bit about how important close quarters combat can be. It really is a forgotten art.

Now I do not want to give the impression that all of our training is fun and interesting, for the most part it fulfills just the opposite mission. This is where we get mileage from our motto, "check the box hooah!" We have had hours upon literally hours of boooooooooooaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnggggggggggg power point training. If I were to design hell it wouldn't include as much burning lakes as it did endless pointless powerpoint slides. I am not sure why we have to do this, but I have taken the stance that asking that question will only lead to insanity.

We are also getting some training as a ministry team. Every, well almost every, Monday and Thursday we go and learn ministry specific stuff. This for the most part is training that I have already have, but I relish the time I get to spend with other chaplains and chaplain assistants. This morning we did a chaplain AAR(after action review) on the FTX(field training exercise) we just had the last 2 weeks. Usually those sessions turn into a pat yourself on the back session, but this one was..... No different. Ha almost has ya there. Not to be too critical of everything, but I have been to too many of these things and I am a little jaded I think. Although it was nice to hear my Brigade Chaplain say that I was always in the right place at the right time. I am not sure if that was true or not, but hey I got my pat on the back.

What I did learn on the most recent FTX was the memorial service. We had a few SIMULATED casualties and I did their memorial service. It was difficult for everyone involved. There were even some higher ranking individuals who refused to participate. I guess they thought it would be too difficult for them. On the ones we did have it was very moving and realistic training. At the first on you could really feel the tension in the air and it really felt for all those involved that we had in fact lost a soldier. It is a hard slap of reality when you do something like that, but I am convinced it is very important training.

Writing this blog is a learning process for me so I am not sure if it will always include inspirational chaplain stuff. I think it will from time to time but for now it will be just what I am doing on a day to day thing. I feel some compulsion to write something spiritual seeing as yesterday was Sunday and all. But instead of going to church yesterday I went out and took some time off with some fellow soldiers. It was great. Not much just some wings and conversation, some laughs and stories. I do believe that it was sorely needed.

I am learning that there is more to spiritual fitness than bible study. More to being spiritually well rounded than spending your evenings in prayer. I am learning that to be spiritually fit you need a certain level of emotional and physical fitness. Well maybe you don't "need" it but it sure helps. So I say with some level of confidence that I was working on my spiritual fitness last night at BW3s eating wings and watching the Seahawks annihilate the Panthers.

CH Luken

The beginning

I see so many people making these blogs that I thought I would try my hand at it. If nothing else it will serve as a good journal for me to remember my experiences. I know that there are many soldiers telling their story on blogspots. In fact one of my good chaplain friends has his own. I am not usually very good at writing consistently, hopefully this will help me to have some motivation to keep writing. I would really like to remember all of the things I am and will be up to over the next year or so.

Sorry, we haven't been properly introduced. My name is Chaplain Todd Luken. I serve in the Army as... You guessed it a chaplain. I am in the process of being deployed and I will be serving as Squadron Chaplain for some 600 soldiers for about a year.

I have been in train-up mode for about 2 months now. It is a long and tedious trial and error type of learning. There are several things that have to be accomplished during this time.
Mandatory "training" we like to call it "checking the box" in reality is going over the soldier skills we already know, but we have to prove to the army that we do in fact know it. I have two categories of mandatory training; Soldier skills and chaplain skills. Neither of them are very exciting, mostly because it is so repetitive.

Then there is the working together part the unit I am a part of is made of several different parts from many different states. This can sometimes prove difficult especially when higher leadership refuses to work together. All in all they seem to work together well. My job for this part is simply to get to know everyone. That can take awhile when we are talking literally hundreds of people. You have to be somewhat creative to even meet some people. I have done everything from visiting them during morning calisthenics, to pulling night guard duty with the Joes. This part of the training is the most rewarding for me, mostly because it requires a great deal of creativity. I think it is also the most demanding part of my job, but I know it will be the most important. If anyone here is going to trust me they first have to know who I am. Noone would want to come to someone with a problem if they had never met them before. So I trudge on trying different things to get to know people.

Today I tried a Squadron level party. It didn't go so well. Well I shouldn't say that so much, the people who came enjoyed it enough, it is just that not so many people came. Ah well, back to the drawing board as they say. Hey that would be a good idea...A drawing board. hmmmm. Anyway, I enjoy this part of my job, but I think it is the hardest for me. I am good at making friends, but I am not all that extroverted so I push myself.

I am getting kind of tired so I will leave it off here for now.

CH Luken