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"Am I heroic?"

September 11, 2011

Tags: More chaplain stories

A chaplain friend of mine who has contributed several posts to this blog, retired Air Force Chaplain Lt. Col. Jeffrey Neuberger, sent me this reflection from his deployment to Balad in 2006. This is a good day to remember those who have come forward to serve our country in times of war and in times of peace.

"Among the many opportunities to boost morale here, there is a large movie theater -- itís very near an outdoor stadium complex. This was not only an Iraqi Air Force base but the Olympic training center for Iraq. The Morale, Recreation and Welfare program offers full-length films. Several of us from my office drove early to attend the first showing of 'Flags of Our Fathers' about the men who were involved in the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima.

As we approached the movie theater, it appeared parking would be a problem -- the parking lot was full of Humvees, ASVs, trucks and other vehicles. We stood in line with dozens of soldiers and Marines. Every soldier is required to shoulder his or her weapon at all times, even in PT gear. Marines shoulder weapons no matter where they are. So there we were, filing into a large movie theater with 95 percent of attendees carrying guns. Though we were early, almost every seat was filled. Our small group of five had to disperse and look for single seats. The theater was filled to its capacity of more than 300 people.

When you visit a movie theater stateside you expect to see movie trivia, advertisements, etc. Instead, we were treated to a short film on Ďattack responsesí at our base; overhead, we could hear fighters and helicopters flying.

After the standard previews we all stood for the national anthem, which is observed in every military movie theater. The room was full of so many young people, mostly young men but some young women.

I wondered how high the testosterone meter would climb during the battle scenes of this World War II movie. To my surprise, there was near silence. Three times there was laughter, a natural and appropriate response to humor in the movie, but for the most part it was eerily silent.

One of my colleagues, also a chaplain, was sitting in the midst of Marines who were almost reverent in their response to the film. We saw the iconic Marine Memorial (the Iwo Jima statue and raising of the flag) many times during the film, which Iím certain had an effect on them -- as it did on us.

As the final credits of the movie rolled by, there was the normal shuffling of a crowd leaving a theater, but absolutely no talking. I thought the place would reach a crescendo in a matter of seconds. Not so; silence reigned.

An important line spoken at the end of the movie, and heard in our context, was almost spiritual: They fight for their country; they die for each other.

Iíve heard so many stories that illustrate this truth. They watch each others' back. They are 'wingmen' for each other. Iíve heard the dramatic stories and Iíve seen small groups of soldiers visit a friend at the hospital. When life is on the line and you depend on someone else to protect your life, it changes oneís perspective. No doubt about it.

The movie closes with a reflection from one of the characters who considers what it means to be a 'hero.' His thought is this: 'Heroes donít create themselves, others create them. We need them, at least the idea of those who perform noble acts.'

I couldnít help think that this same thought was going through many young minds now, in the silence of the moment: 'Am I heroic?' I would like to answer that question: Yes, young Marine, Soldier, Sailor, Airman, you are heroic. You are the grandchildren and great grandchildren of those military men and women who, 65 years ago, stepped forward in the name of freedom and liberty, and youíve done the same."

Grief and rejoicing

September 7, 2011

My heart aches this morning for the four people killed in the IHOP shooting in Nevada, among them two National Guard members, and the eight people wounded. I don't understand. I just don't understand.

Just as on 9/11 ten years ago, people were going about their business, just as they did every day. Going to work, stopping for breakfast. Sipping coffee. No reason to think that this would be their last day on earth.

In 2001, it struck me, as it did everyone, what a beautiful September day it was on that September 11th, clear blue skies, warm summery day. It strikes me almost every time I see a beautiful sky like the one of that day -- how can a day like this be someone's last day of life? And how can such horror coexist with such beauty?

Even today, horror lives side-by-side with beauty. A story arose from another part of the world today -- Afghanistan, no less -- of a baby who lived instead of died.

Rejoicing in one part of the world, grieving in another. I wish it weren't so.