Saturday, November 01, 2008

At least once every day this summer I waited for a C- 17 to land from Iraq or Afghanistan. If we timed it right, we sat for about 15 minutes before we saw our "bird" arrive and taxi to its parking spot. When the pilot signaled it was clear, we rolled onto the flight line, a caravan of blue modified school busses painted with large red crosses. We'd park near the tail of the aircraft and I was among the first people out of the vehicles who headed into the plane. As soon as I was onboard, I started talking with patients.

"Welcome to Ramstein Air Base. You are in Germany and you are safe. I'm Chaplain Marvel, I work with the people who are going to transport you today into the next level of medical care. In a moment, the back of this plane will open up and you'll see our ambulance buses. You might want to put on your coat - it's probably a little colder than where you came from. Once we are all on the buses, we'll drive you to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center where we'll get you some breakfast and a chance to meet some of the finest docs in the world who are here to help you.
"As you work your way through this process, I and other chaplains are here. Remember that what you tell us stays with us - we don't report what you say to anyone without your permission. If you need to talk, I or others have chosen to be here because we want to listen."

I assured snipers they are forgiven. I swapped out crutches for some more comfortable. I listened to cries of "Where was God when my sergeant was blown up?" I arranged phone calls to tell parents what's happened to their children. Some people were going home to broken marriages, some to infants they'd never met; many had seen or experienced such horrible events "downrange" that they just wanted to talk with another human being. As a chaplain, I provided Holy Communion, I prayed with people, I anointed them and prayed for healing. But my most effective ministry was often in listening to and holding their stories - hopefully, therefore, making them Holy. My job wasn't to fix anything, but to rely on the Spirit to mend their brokenness.

Since coming home, I've had a difficult time relating my experience, which I've discovered is true for many military members. Often, it's been difficult to clarify that my military duty is in no way related to a particular political agenda. I serve as a military chaplain not because I like war, but because I am that visible reminder many of us need at some time or other that there is no place we can go where the Holy would abandon us.


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