Sunday, February 3, 2008

Military Death Notifications

Church in Iraq is quite different than church back at home. For one, I stepped on a machine gun not long ago while walking to take a seat. If you thought your church pew was uncomfortable try sitting for an hour on a bench made out of only a few 2x4s.

The post chapel has a Wall of Remembrance where the pictures of those killed in this area are hung.

There are a handful of chaplains and many different types of services conducted to accommodate military members of all faiths. The chapels are always taken up on Sundays. I've attended a few different religious services of other faiths, and occasionally members of other faiths join our congregation.

Today a hard-core Gunnery Sergeant from the US Marine Corps said a few words that I really wanted to share.

As an active member of the USMC, he was assigned as an instructor near Las Vegas for a Marine Reserve element. One of his duties was death notifications. He dreaded the thought of doing it, he told us. But finally, inevitable as it was, the day came. He got dressed up in his fine-pressed garrison uniform, complete with all of his shining combat awards, medallions and battle ribbons.

"It's the hardest thing I've done in my life," he said. "I've seen Marines die. I've seen a lot of things..." There was a long pause as he looked to the side, no doubt thinking about the horrors and scars of war and the burdens he still bore.

"I sat in the van outside the house and I prayed, 'Heavenly Father, please, please help me do something or say something to help this family.' " The rough Marine admitted that he hadn't regularly gone to church or prayed often before then. He said he still has a hard time coming to church, even though I've seen him there several times. At one time during his testimony he let a word slip that wouldn't be appropriate for church services, but I don't think he realized his habit has slipped out accidently from his tongue. "Finally," he continued, "the call came and we walked up to the door. I thought my heart would pop out of my uniform. I'm surprised it didn't. I just didn't want to cry."

"As soon as you show up on someone's porch all dressed up in military uniform, holding a folded American flag, they know. They know why you're there...

"Marines realize when they sign up they are inherently accepting some risk. Well, their mothers didn't sign up for that. Their fathers and their little brothers didn't volunteer for that.

"The Marine who died, died here in Fallujah." The Herculean and battle-scarred Gunny pointed eastward towards Fallujah, which isn't too far from here. "He died, along with seven other Marines, by a suicide V-B-I-E-D." Since we were all in combat uniforms and even had our automatic weapons and sidearms there with us in church, he used the acronym which he knew we'd all know well -- Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device, a car bomb.

"Well, he was just 19-years-old. He had scholarships from several schools. But he joined because he wanted to be a Marine.

"I had to come back a couple of days later and tell the family that we'd found out more information. They (the military) had to wait to identify their son because they didn't know what body part was his. It had to be done through DNA testing. Talk about hard. I had to tell them their sons body was torn apart. But here's the thing," he said, finally getting to the crux of the message he had intended to relate to us. "I believe in the power of prayer. Praying's not that hard. You don't have to memorize much. You don't have to use big words. You just talk and God hears you. How do I know that? Because my prayer was answered.

"After I went back the second time, I went over to their house every day for a month. I'd show up every morning at seven and sometimes I wouldn't leave until after midnight. My First Sergeant wasn't with them for more than a few minutes during our first visit, then he told me to stay there by myself. The family told my First Sergeant after the second visit that they wanted me to keep coming over because they said it comforted them to have me there. It wasn't me," he admitted. "It was the Lord. It was because of my prayer."

By the time he finished he was crying and tears had reached all the way down my face as well. I didn't look around the room, but I'm sure there wasn't a dry eye to be found anywhere.

I love going to church. I love going to church here in Iraq. There's something very unique and special about worshipping during times of crises and war.


Anonymous said...

If we let the spirit touch us we can all have those special experiences. Father knows us all.

Anonymous said...