Christmas in Iraq 2006 & 2007

During my last deployment we spent the Christmas of 2006 and 2007 in Iraq. We were initially going to be in Iraq for Christmas of 2006 but due to the extension of our 12- month deployment to 15-months during the surge of 2007. We spent two Christmases in Iraq, below are some pictures of the two Christmases. 

Pictures of my Office and my Room 

 

Warrior Chapel Christmas 2007

 

 

Christmas Eve Service 2007

 

 

Dining Facility Christmas Celebration 2006

 

 

Have a Very Merry Christmas 2017 

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50th Birthday Musings And A Tragedy

 

perfect 10sToday marks my 50 years here on planet earth, the “big 5 oh”, “the over the hill” birthday, the “your eligible for AARP birthday,” the “your half a century old” birthday. I suppose most people approach their 50th birthday the same way I have. I am looking back on my fifty years, and I am thinking how different my life would be if I had the wisdom, understanding, and experience I have now when I was 20. To have what I have gained in 50 years and still have my youth, to be in shape and have all my hair would be tremendous. I imagine many of the decisions I made would be greatly different. I imagine I would accept those opportunities that were presented to me instead of passing them up, only to later regret not taking them. I wonder if I would still have made some of the same dumb decisions I’ve made over my 50 years of living? Hindsight allows me to look at the good choices I made and the bad choices I made. I am able to take pride in the many accomplishments and good choices I made as well as recognize the bad choices I made. As I look back on my life thus far, I realize hindsight is 20/20. Hindsight makes it easy to ask myself “what was I thinking.” It allows me to feel both regret and delight in the decisions I made over the last 50 years. It also allows me to play the “what if game” What if I had said no instead of yes, what if I had gone to another school or college? What if I had accepted or stayed at a particular assignment? While hindsight can give us a better appreciation of our past experiences and decisions, it cannot answer the “what lays ahead” questions that I am now faced with.

 

funny-50th-birthday-gift-straight-outta-1967-adjustable-apronWhen I went to bed last night, I thought about how different my life’s course has taken. I had many plans for this time of my life. On my 50th birthday, I expected to have reached the golden milestone of military service, 20 years on active duty. I assumed I would stay on active duty for another five years and retire at 55. Our goal was to retire and live in our RV full-time traveling across North America. What I did not anticipate was the results of spending two years at war. I went to war knowing  I could be killed or even come home with serious physical injuries. I was ok with that, and I freely took my chances and went to war. What I never thought about was coming home with the unseen injury of PTSD. I was unprepared for the emotional and spiritual struggles that go along with having PTSD. I did not anticipate the years of depression, hopelessness, suicidal tendencies and gloom that would follow me years after returning from war. I did not predict the extended psychiatric hospital stays, the treatments I would undergo and the medications I would end up taking. When I went to war, I never anticipated that soon after returning from war I would lose my military profession at the very pinnacle of my career. It never crossed my mind that going to war would cost me the opportunity to continue my lifelong love of being a full-time minister.

These were the thought I had last night when I went to bed. Then this morning I woke up and saw for the first time the horror that took place in Las Vegas. I was shocked and horrified by what I saw as the news was unfolding before me. I felt the same sense of disbelief I experienced when I turned on the TV on September 11, 2001. I watched about an hour of news this morning when I left for a doctor’s appointment. As I drove to my appointment I took the time to rethink my thoughts from last night in light of what happened in Las Vegas. I did not come up with any life-changing insights or ideas, I merely reflected on the fact that for many people life does not go as they plan. Not one of the 22,000 plus people who were at the concert last night had any expectations the night would turn out the way it did. Over an extended ten-minute period, the lives of tens of thousands of people changed forever. Hopes, dreams, and expectations all vanished in a hail of fire. Lives were lost, people suffered horrific injuries, while others suffered less threatening injuries. Some escaped the shooting with little or no injuries at all. Some will bear the hidden emotional and spiritual wounds of PTSD. In light of this terrible event, my life story seems small; my struggles don’t look as bad as others. My complaint of how my life is different from what I had planned, really does not seem all that important. My experiences, twists and turns and where I find myself today is just part of life.

My story is not unique; I’m not the only one whose life has taken a traumatic turn. I do not stand alone as an example of how life can unfairly mess with someone’s dreams. Although my life has taken a different course than I had anticipated, I still have my life. I still have those who love me, and I love them. I still have a future before me. I still have years of living before me, if God so chooses to grant me more days on this earth. I still have opportunities that lay ahead of me. I have no idea of what the rest of my life will look like, all I know is, I have this very moment in time, and it is my choice on what I will do with it.

 

Faced With Three Choices

When I Woke Up This Morning I Had Three Choices And I Could Only Choose One 

Yesterday I was going through our closet as part of our ritual spring-cleaning event. As I was going through our “hopeful” section of the closet; this is the area where we put the clothes we like but have somehow shrunk on us. The cloths in this  section are the clothes we hope to one day be able to wear again.  However, we never seem to enjoy that experience. So from time to time reality sets in and we go through our “hopeful” section. As we are faced with reality, we finally relent and get rid of our “hopeful” cloths. However, we always make sure we leave some “hopeful” cloths to motivate us until the next onset of reality hits us. IMG_0518The far right corner of our hopeful section is where I have hung my Army dress and mess uniforms, they are in garment bags and simply occupy their space in the dark corner of my closet. As I was going through the hopeful clothes, I ran across one of my dress shirts and a pair of my dress pants for my dress uniform. They were on separate hangers so I combined the two and hung them next to the two garment bags that held my full dress uniforms.

As I looked at the garment bags I decided to unzip one of the bags and take a look at the uniform. I was greeted with my dress uniform, everything was in its proper place, my awards, my combat identifier badge, my name badge, my chaplain crest and all the other items I have on my dress uniform. The uniform was just the way I left it. I gazed at the uniform for just a few seconds and immediately felt a deep sense of sadness. So I quickly zipped the bag back up and walked out of the closet. For the remainder of the day I felt sad, I felt a little depressed, as the day wore on my feeling of sadness and depression grew. By the time I went to bed I was feeling pretty sad and went into a little funk. I told my wife that I was feeling down and she asked my why, my response was “I’m not sure.” Then I remembered how I felt after looking at my uniform this morning and it made sense why I was feeling the way I was. Those few seconds when I was looking at my dress uniform, I was reminded how much I miss being in the Army. It reminded me that at one point in my life, I woke up each morning with a plan and ended each day knowing I had accomplished that plan. I miss having that feeling of significance.

This morning when I woke up, I had a few decisions to make. Was I going to spend the day feeling depressed and just sit around the house all day doing nothing? Or am I going to sit around the house living in a “could have been” world? Would I spend the day imaging what my life would have been if I had not been medically retired due to PTSD? Was I going to imagine what my assignment would have been? Where I could be living and wondering what my promotion packet would look like. I also had a third and more difficult choice available. Will I get out of bed; appreciate the opportunity I had to serve in the U.S. Army for 21 years? Will I be thankful for what I have? Will I focus my day on the here and now and plan for my son’s arrival tomorrow from his first year of college? Will I prepare for and be busy getting ready for our family cruise on Saturday? Choices one and two are the easiest choices; I’m very good at sitting around feeling sorry for myself, and being depressed. I’m even better at choice number two. I have spent many days, weeks and months over the last few years living in my “what could have been” world.

The hardest choice is choice number three; it is the one that demands the most from me. It is the one that requires the most energy and the most commitment. It is also the one that has the greatest reward, the one that will continue leading me doIMG_0525wn the road of healing and overcoming the debilitating symptoms of my PTSD. It is the one that will allow me to enjoy the day, prepare for the homecoming of my son and the one that will move me a step close to living the life I truly want to live.
I loved my time in the Army, I am proud of my service and what I accomplished over the 21 years of my service. I am proud of the way my dress uniform looks. I am thankful for what I have now.

So I choose number three, the hardest choice of the three.

 

 

Lost in Forgotten Memories

I can once again declare with all certainty “That God’s love is never-ending, that He does not leave us in a state of hopelessness to wonder by ourselves in the midst of trouble.”

One of the symptoms of PTSD is the inability to remember details or facts about the traumatic event. Frequently when we are missing details about our traumatic events we experience unexplained fear, anger, resentment or even dazed confusion. Generally, this loss of memory can affect us for years. Instead of remembering the event itself or the details of the event, we are merely left with a big black cloud of nothing. Many times we wish we could remember what actually happened because staring into the dark abyss of lost memories is exhausting and wears upon one’s emotions.

A few weeks ago, I came across one of my Battalion Chaplains Dan Kersey on Facebook. He was the chaplain for the historic 1-7 Cavalry Battalion when I was the brigade chaplain during Iraqi Freedom 2006-2008. I have not talked with him since I left the brigade in the summer of 2008. 1-7 was the unit I referred to in my first blog post “A Moment in Time.” I wrote that the attack on 2-8 Cavalry Battalion in Taji Market happened during the memorial ceremony for 3 of the 1-7 Soldiers. I knew the attack against 2-8 happened in August of 2007 but I was unaware of the exact date. So I messaged Dan and asked if he remembered the date of the ceremony. He told me he would check his records. Roughly an hour later, he messaged me and said the only ceremony they had conducted for multiple soldiers was in December of 2007. I was surprised by this news, I was sure the attack took place during the 1-7 memorial ceremony. I began to doubt myself and wonder if the memories I had, really occurred. I spent the next few hours searching the web trying to match up these dates. During my search I found two websites. The first was a website that listed the names and dates of Texas service members who were killed in the Iraqi theater. The second website listed the suicide attacks that occurred during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Between these two websites my memory of that day become clearer.

Continue reading “Lost in Forgotten Memories”

We Are Not Our Trauma

We are not the sum of our trauma, Our trauma is simply a part of who we are now.

The attack on our Combat outpost  Taji Market delivered a spiritual blow that shook the very foundation of my spiritual life. The following morning I woke up to the reality of the attack on our COP. I was faced once again with the duty of supervising another memorial ceremony, but this time I asked myself what difference does it makecamptaji_fpo There is no way our Soldiers could sit through another ceremony and listen to our empty words of encouragement and hope. I could not bring myself to accept that what we offered to our Soldiers mattered and that our message of hope had any real impact upon anyone. How many times could we read the Psalms, pray for God’s comfort and healing, share our belief of God’s protection and yet watch as even more Soldiers die? I was convinced that our Soldiers must view us with contempt and view our message as senseless and offensive. It was a revelation that hunted me for many years, a revelation that brought me to the deepest spiritual struggle that I had ever faced in my life.

Continue reading “We Are Not Our Trauma”

A Moment In Time

The real question is not how you arrived, but how you will respond when you find yourself in your moment of time. 

It was just a moment in time, one moment of many over my lifetime. A moment that in any other circumstance, I would have responded as I always did as an Army chaplain. It was a moment I had prepared for, a moment I had trained for, a moment I was ready to respond to. But as it turned out, it was not just another moment. It was more than the sum of what had just happened. It was a moment that brought together all the events of my life in a single snap shot, during a single moment of time. That one moment brought to light all of my fears. It raised questions and frustrations; it brought pain, a sense of hopelessness, weakness, doubt and desperation. It awaken a deep spiritual struggle within my faith, a questioning of my calling as a minister and as a chaplain, a questioning of what I was taught and what I believed to be true of God. That moment caused me to question my purpose as a Christian, a minister, a chaplain, a soldier, a husband, a father, and as a man. That single moment in August of 2007 left me standing in Iraq finding myself overwhelmed by a lifetime of struggle and a sense of hopelessness.

Continue reading “A Moment In Time”