Saturday, March 24, 2007


I spent the latter part of this week in Baghdad for the Multinational Corps-Iraq (MNC-I) Chaplains Conference. The senior Unit Ministry Teams from the theater all met to discuss the ministry that is taking place in Iraq. The second day of the conference started off with a National Prayer Breakfast in the rotunda of the Al Faw palace. The picture to the left is me shaking hands with Chaplain (Major General) Dave Hicks, the Army Chief of Chaplains. Lieutenant General Odierno, the MNC-I Commanding General was present, as was Major General Silverman, the 3rd MEDCOM Commanding General. We flew back to Anaconda yesterday after spending 3 days in Baghdad. As often as I travel around Iraq, it's always good to return to Anaconda, and "home".

Monday, March 19, 2007

San Antonio Story

Sig Christenson is a reporter with the San Antonio Express-News visiting Anaconda. I have had several meals and several conversations with Sig. If you follow the link and go to the March 17th entry entitled, "Another Groundhog Day" you can read what he says about our time together.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

New Friends

My normal schedule on Sundays includes getting up for breakfast and the 0830 Catholic Mass. As OIC (Officer-in-Charge) of Freedom Chapel I find it important to observe the different services (6 each Sunday). Plus, I like the singing and the Catholic Chaplain gives good homilies. After Mass I head to Green Beans coffee (think Starbucks in a trailer set in the middle of a desert combat zone) and hang out in the outdoor seating. Then it's back to the chapel around 0930 to check on things for my service at 1000. After my service it's back to Green Beans to wait until about noon when I go back to listen to the sermon at the Gospel Service. You never know who you will run into at Green Beans. Usually I find folks I know from the unit or the services and sit with them in the sun. Today I met some Bulgarians. The woman sitting next to me is a civilian filmmaker. She has a Masters of Theology and speaks English quite well. We had a good conversation, and she interpreted for her friend, who speaks very little English. The friend on the far side would want an interpretation whenever her friend would laugh, which was pretty much every sentence.

Last week while here I had the chance to meet a reporter from the San Antonio Express-News He took some notes, so if I ever find that he has printed anything from our exchange I'll put a link here. That's one thing about Anaconda; we meet folks from all over!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Operation: You've Got Mail Update

Back in the middle of October I sent out an email to some friends inviting them to help support Soldiers by sending various items that I would distribute. Well, I certainly did not expect the response we received! To date we have received over 1,300 boxes.
To be honest, we had a glut of supplies, especially after Christmas when all the Soldiers were receiving boxes from all over the US. So, we looked for other ways we could do good with the boxes.
One of the ways was to give things to the Third Country Nationals that come to work in Iraq. TCN's work in the Post Exchange, Dining Facilities, Barber Shops, and just about everywhere imaginable. Most of these folks have signed on for several years and will not see their families at all while working here for what are by our standards very small wages. On several occasions we have been able to brighten their time here thanks to your generosity.
The picture above shows a Soldier loading a SUV. These boxes will be taken back to his unit where they will be broken down, then taken outside the wire to Iraqi schools for Civil Affair and Humanitarian Missions. This is a great way to show Iraqis the generosity of Americans! Wherever Coalition Soldiers have been in ministry like this to the local nationals there has been a decrease in violence, and an increase in HUMINT (human intelligence reports). So, you are not only boosting Soldiers morale, helping third country nationals and local nationals, but you are saving the lives of Soldiers and civilians because of these missions.
Thanks for what YOU are doing in the Global War on Terror!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Lent in Iraq

The young Soldier made his way down the aisle. Reaching the front of the sanctuary he stopped, clasped his hands, and bowed his head for the imposition of the ashes. “Remember you are dust” I said as I made the mark of the cross on his forehead “and to dust you shall return.” He whispered “Amen”, turned, and made his way back to his seat, his weapon swaying in time with his step as the next penitent stepped forward.

There’s something particularly poignant about Ash Wednesday in a combat zone. “Remember your mortality, remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” we say. They remember. Every day as they leave for convoys and combat patrols. Each night as they fly. Every day as the mortars rain down and the rockets scream overhead, they remember. Ashes are a powerful symbol to men and women who have seen the remains of friends charred beyond recognition in IED attacks, or burned in aircraft that have been lost. These ashes are not some esoteric reminder of mortality; they are the present reality of too many friends and comrades.

“What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” Paul reminds us. So, during these forty days of Lent we seek to kill those things that do not belong in our lives. It’s harder here, trying to figure out what to give up for Lent. General Order #1 denies us alcohol, always a favorite abstention when this season rolls around. As a matter of fact there is not much to give up when you are already living a life of deprivation compared to life back home. But it is blessing as well as curse. It forces us to focus on the real things we need to give up. What is it that separates us from a closer walk with God? What grows in my life that needs to be plucked up, rooted out, and purged? No easy denial of some worldly pleasure here; those were taken away a long time ago. Instead, what is this season really calling me to give up?

Luckily, we live with the promise. That promise is that this is a season, and only a season. This season will pass and we will arrive at the glory of Easter and the Resurrection. We remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. But we also remember that the promise is that this perishable body will put on imperishability and this mortal body will put on immortality; that this body that is clothed in dishonor will be raised in glory.

That is our hope this Lent, as we serve thousands of miles from home.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Well, It IS a Combat Zone

Well, last night was interesting.

I took two of our Soldiers over to the our PAX Terminal around 2130 (9:30 p.m. for those who don't know the 24-hour clock) so they could start heading home for their 15 day R&R. Soldiers can take a shuttle bus, but I try to be available to guys and girls who would rather go in my humvee; after all there is a lot of gear involved since we must travel with body armor, helmets, plus whatever we're taking home. I dropped them off, wished them well, and headed out to go back to the West Side and grab something from Burger King since I hadn't eaten yet. As I exited the parking area onto the loop road that would lead me back to my hootch I heard a loud whirring and chattering sound and thought, "Heavens to Betsy, something's wrong with the Humvee, I hope I can make it back to the other side." OK, maybe that wasn't exactly what I said, but the gist is the same. Then there was the explosion. "Heavens to Betsy, that was close!" I thought. Then I heard the whirring again, only louder. "Okay, louder means closer, that can't be good". Another "whump!" and I felt another concussion. I hunkered down over the steering wheel until I thought, "This is a soft sided humvee; hunkering down is not going to do much good!" Then the C-RAM ( goes off and I'm watching red tracers going downrange over my humvee. "Let's see, speed limit's 20? (It was a construction zone) FORGET THAT!" I floored it (as if you can floor a humvee that runs on JP-8 and does zero to sixty in ninety minutes) and got the heck out of there. There were about 8-9 impacts behind and around me and I felt each one. I drove through clouds of debris, prayed I was still on the road, and remembered my training to get out of the kill zone as quickly as possible; or as we put it "Drive it like you stole it!"

I did manage to stop by Burger King and got a whopper.

A few hours before the attack I had spoken with my bishop, Lindsey Davis, by phone and he had prayed with me. Coincidence? Anyway, I'm listening a little more closely to the bishop - he's got some good connections!

By the way - they killed the bad guys.