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Welcome, friends! 

Wedding on a golf course

Chaplain (Capt.) Jack Stanley, foreground
Many of the chaplains I interviewed for Miracles and Moments of Grace had so many good stories to tell that it was hard to choose just one.

That was the case with Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Jack Stanley, who kept a journal during his deployment and linked me to hundreds of pages! Still, this week I found yet another story that I wish he'd told me for the book.

It's a story of a bride and a groom and an impromptu wedding on a golf course!

Chaplain Stanley was participating in a golf tournament at Travis Air Force Base in Solano County, Calif., to celebrate the retirement of a friend from the military.

Enter Blair and Jessica, a couple who were slated to be married in June -- church, white dress, flowers and all. But Blair's deployment orders to Iraq came, and suddenly the wedding was off and time was short.

The distressed couple tried to arrange a marriage at the local justice of the peace, but the lines there were too long. Blair had just a few hours left in the country.

So, they tracked down the chaplain.

Chaplain Stanley maintains strict rules for marrying couples but he believed Blair and Jessica had all the elements of a successful marriage covered. "I could see they were absolutely sincere in their hearts," Chaplain Stanley says.

"I said, 'If you can get here, I will marry you. I don't know what hole I will be on, but you can jump on a cart and come find me,'" Chaplain Stanley remembers.

Chaplain Stanley alerted the staff at the golf course, and the wedding plans were announced over a loudspeaker. Players gathered around the putting green. A wedding photographer -- a person with a disposable camera -- stepped up.

So, there on the golf course, Jessica in jeans and a sleeveless top, Blair in his desert camouflage uniform, Chaplain Stanley in golf shirt and slacks, a wedding ceremony began.

Chaplain Stanley asked his friend who was retiring, the vice commander of a military hospital, to start the ceremony.

"Well folks," his friend said, "We've got a couple here whose wedding has just been taken from them. It is only right that we give them something to remember."

"I saw tears well up in the couple's eyes, and at that moment I felt at peace," Chaplain Stanley recalls. "Not knowing when they would be reunited, Jessica and Blair needed the bond of marriage."

The day was a true blessing for everyone involved, Chaplain Stanley says. For him, it was one of many events that have confirmed his calling as a chaplain.  Read More 
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Chaplain Rojas finds fame

One of the chaplains in Miracles and Moments of Grace, Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Richard Rojas, got his name in print again!

Check out the story of his adventure in a Honduran jungle here on the website of Dover Air Force Base.

Thank you, Airman 1st Class Samuel Taylor, 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs, for featuring Chaplain Rojas! Read More 
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A glimpse of military life

Recently, I received a lovely note from Debby, a woman who appreciated the stories in my book, because she said they provide a glimpse into the lives of military families that few people ever see. Only 1 percent of Americans serve in the military, she says, so it's only natural that her world is not everyone's world. But she wishes it weren't so.

Debby sent me a few of the e-mails she has written while her husband has been deployed. I want to share one with you (with her permission!), because I was so touched by her words, which convey both great emotion and great restraint. I think the pictures she paints will give you another valuable glimpse into this world.

"184 days. That’s how long it’s been since our family all stood together in a cramped office at a National Guard armory to say goodbye to Bill as he headed off to war. It was one of the most devastating and emotional moments our family has ever experienced.

Before he left, Bill told us, “Remember, each day that passes is one day closer to my coming home.” That thought has helped me find goodness and value in even the most challenging of days. Now, with six months down, we are officially halfway through this deployment adventure!

Bill’s mission has officially transitioned from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn. (Personally I think that sounds too much like a laundry detergent!) Bill and his troops are busier than ever managing the logistics for operations in Southern Iraq. Yet I am constantly having to explain that Bill’s unit has not pulled out and that troops are still there serving in harm’s way.

On August 31, Bill experienced firsthand a highly classified maneuver -- Operation Commander Surprise. Secretly, I had been communicating with his unit to arrange a surprise party for his birthday. The kids and I shipped over party decorations, banners and balloons as well as drink mixes, homemade cookies, cakes and brownies, candy, dried fruit and nuts and other treats. With the help of a sneaky Executive Officer and First Sergeant, the mission was a complete success.

We use e-mail and Skype to communicate. I have noticed that Bill sometimes has a hard time transitioning from "Soldier" to "Dad" mode. During one call he actually barked, "AT EASE!" when the kids were excitedly talking at the same time. Mel and Doug both stopped in their tracks, looked at each other and burst out laughing.

Bill is an assistant scoutmaster in Doug’s Boy Scout troop, and he was really missing the boys. So, I took my laptop to the meeting one night. We set up a Skype call and Bill interacted with the scouts, congratulating the new patrol leaders, moving his webcam around to give the boys a “tour” of his CHU (containerized housing unit), fielding questions and watching a flag ceremony.

One thing that tears at my heart is that Bill has had to miss many "firsts" in our kids’ lives. I snap a photo or grab a video clip, but it’s not the same. This past month was filled with many of these firsts. After eight years of Little League, Doug was tapped to be lead-off batter in a game (he hit a double!) and in the next game he got to pitch for the first time. Meanwhile, Mel went to her first high school dance. Much to her mortification, Bill considered having a video chat before the couple left for the evening. But Doug saved the day when he declared, "Don’t worry, dad, I got your back!"

With humor and determination, our family continues to meet the challenge of deployment. None of this would be possible without the support of our family and friends. We appreciate all the kind words of encouragement, and all the packages you have sent to Bill. Each card, box and note brings him a little closer to home, if only for a moment. Thanks again for your support and prayers."  Read More 
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