Saturday, October 15, 2005


Milestones and Eagles Wings

I guess I may get a few more days of connectivity...not easy, not prolonged, but enough.

We passed two milestones last week.

The Battalion conducted our last Prayer Breakfast in Iraq this past week, and it served as a helpful reflection on where we came from, what we endured, and the more lasting aspects of this deployment.

The Chaplain welcomed us by saying, “We have come this far by faith.” Faith in our leaders, in our mission, in our abilities to be successful. He urged us to think about these last words we would speak in Iraq. Paul, at the end of his ministry (and earthly life) spoke both of “fighting the good fight,” and having “run the race,” and come successfully to the finish. (Given the many different audiences God intended him to reach over the better part of two Millenia, we can forgive and perhaps appreciate the mixing of these two metaphors.)

No regular reader here doubts my view of the rightness of our fight in Iraq, of the broader struggle against radical Islamic terrorism, and of the deeper and near ancient now commitment to ideals of Liberty and Freedom. It is no accident that this Task Force we are a part of has been called Task Force Liberty, symbolized by the torch that is held aloft by Lady Liberty in New York Harbor. Now this coincides with the moe stations of our parent Division and its subordinate commands, and the homes of record of many of our soldiers. But it also harkens to what many of us have in this fight, despite what any of the nay-sayers claim, those of us who either sat stunned and felt deeply the attack on the World Trade Towers, or in many cases, took up the task of establishing the military presence in New York City in the immediate aftermath, and assisted in the recovery efforts at Ground Zero. Many of our soldiers struggled through air heavy laden with dust and debris, smelled the smells of destruction, breathed deeply of the grief and ashen anger that pervaded that world, that moment, that time of our Great Awakening.

We take it personal. In fighting back, in bringing the fight to the doorsteps of Terrorism, we have sacrificed brothers and sisters. A portion of our Prayer Breakfast was dedicated to a memorial tribute to those who have fallen in our Task Force. I was powerfully struck by how many of those faces were as alive as any I have ever seen. It was as if the best photographers in the world had studied these men and women, gotten to know them, and taken the kind of photographs that captured for all time the essence of their personalities. I looked into the eyes of people I never knew, never would know, and thought, I’d have been good friends with him. Or, I would have been charmed by her. He would have made me laugh all the time. I would have greatly respected this man, or I bet he was a great Dad, or she was a heck of a Mom. Now lost to the ages, to history, to the sadness of their families and the longing of friends to see them one more time. And so we may, but not on this Earth again.

The soundtrack for the photos included “How Great Thou Art”(Removed misattributed story of what inspired this hymn):
Oh Lord My God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout, the universe displayed

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
They finished with another song, which the first time I heard the band play it, it made me angry. I must have just been in one of those unfeeling places, thinking, “That’s just stupid, our logo is the Rainbow, so they need to play ‘Over The Rainbow,’ for a memorial service?” I had first heard this performed at our Memorial Service for our two fallen officers.

Maybe I really heard it this time. The band has a lead singer, who sings the song at a very slow and haunting tempo, and done somberly with much emotion. (There must be some popular female singer who has covered “Over The Rainbow” with this kind of arrangement, but I am not familiar with who.)

Sung in grief, as a plaintive cry, it speaks to that part of us that longs for eternity, or at least long enough to outlast this earthly existence and meet again lost friends and departed love ones.
Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high
There's a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true

Some day I'll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where troubles melt like lemondrops
Away above the chimney tops
That's where you'll find me
At several points, several serious crises have confronted the Chaplaincy, as well as the rest of the Command. Many times, the question was asked, “Do we need to send this soldier home?” In many cases, the Command was able to appreciate and do service in return to the soldier, and release him at least temporarily from his or her obligation. Many resisted, and one was heard to quote a recent Olympic athlete from Africa, “My country didn’t send me 7,000 Miles to start the race, they sent me 7,000 miles to finish the race.”

The Chaplain spoke of us yet keeping the torch lit for the Lord. For me, that brought to mind the scripture of the brides and their lamps, to keep them lit for the bridegroom. Their Lord visited those who maintained their oil and their wicks. Perhaps not the most apt metaphor for a bunch of Army man and women, but the essential point is that, throughout all adversity, God challenges us to keep ourselves ready for conscious contact with Him. He is ever present, ever ready, standing at our “finish line,” waiting for us to finish.

Our Commanding General spoke of the many troubles and trouble spots in the world. He described the many solutions to those problems, sometimes money, sometimes diplomacy, but sometimes, there’s a need for hands-on, and this time that meant us. We played our part. He remarked that of course we will find ways to thank our soldiers and our leaders, but that we need to reserve a big part of our thanks to the Divine Creator who watches over us in all we do.

Which brings me to our second milestone from last week, which was all about giving those thanks to our soldiers.

The Battalion conducted an End of Tour Awards Ceremony in the Division Conference Room. The room is possibly the most spectacular of any of the palace rooms in one of the more ornate of Saddam’s Palaces. The atmosphere befit the occasion, whereby the Battalion gave out awards for the unit’s 10 month deployment to Iraq. Section by section, soldiers came forward and were recognized by the Commander and CSM, and given awards for their service in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) III.

That’s one kind of thanks, and important, but not the most important. It made me reflect on what my soldiers’ think is important, and I don’t think that’s usually these paper certificates or ribbons or even the medal with the pin clasp that we will almost never wear, save those few of us who will invest in Dress Blues. Certificates and medals and ribbons, those are creations from the world of Officers. Sometimes valued by non-commissioned officers (NCOs) or other enlisted, but generally only in proportion to the leader who leads them, the manner in which he leads them, and the care with which he or she takes in getting the mission accomplished.

Soldiers measure success differently. Honor. Honesty. Commitment. Trust.

For some, they know they are but a fair-weather stop for a self-serving military careerist. Soldiers know who they would follow to the full measure of devotion, if it ever comes to that, and they know who will save themselves before any of the rest of them will even think of that.

I looked across the faces of our soldiers, and I know each of us were in our own spheres of reflection. Some thought about home, no doubt, some thought about what’s next, as either civilian or full-time careerist, or even someone still in between. Many I’m sure thought about their mission, the things that went well, those things that didn’t, and formed thoughts of closure and judgment, and hopefully, some pride of accomplishment. I know it isn’t adequately reflected in medals or ribbons. I know that words at a ceremony can’t convey its essence.

Whether where we started, whether where we’ve been, or whether where we’re going, times like these get us thinking up, out and beyond ourselves and our limited line of sight. Somewhere over the rainbow, no doubt.
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles;
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

UPDATE: A reader corrects my misattribution of How Great Thou Art, which was played at our ceremony, but was not inspired as described. As Anonymous correctly observes, that story I remember but mis-attribute is the source of It Is Well (With My Soul), which I surely should remember, as I have written on it several times. My apologies.

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