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.