Commentary: Recollections of a veteran on his role

Published 11:23 am Wednesday, March 26, 2003

By By Dr. Tommy Smith
As we boarded the C-141 to Saudi Arabia for the Gulf War, my commander turned to me and said, "Chaplain, I want you to begin right now thinking about the day that this unit comes home."
I confess that I was thinking only about going to war (my first time), my thoughts were of what was ahead. Like everyone else I had left my family behind, my wife and two teenage girls. We had held each other and cried and prayed.
The thought of preparing to come home was not in my mind. It was just before Christmas and we would be spending the holidays in Saudi Arabia getting ready to go north for the land phase of the war.
Over the next six months, we would make our journey from Saudi, into Iraqi, then into Kuwait, then back to Saudi and finally back home again. We spent most of our time living in the desert! During that time I experienced things that I had never known. I had devoted myself to being fully a servant to the soldiers I ministered to. My desire was to experience everything that God had for me and that I would be used in His service to help others.
I found that those months brought great personal struggles to most of the personnel around me, including myself. Individuals were molded and changed by the experience. Families back home were also changed by what was taking place. My own life is richer today because of the hardship and struggle of those times, and I thank God that I was able to be of service to my country and to my fellow soldier.
Now, we have a new war before us in the same region. Again the job of the chaplain and the commander is to do all they can do to accomplish the mission, and then come home together. Our soldiers have always looked to the chaplains for guidance, especially when things got difficult. Our soldiers will have chaplain support wherever they go.
Our chaplains will be concerned with the spiritual life of our soldiers and will speak a word to encourage and will say a prayer to inspire and comfort. The care of the soldier is the primary job of the chaplain. For those of us who will be staying back, our soldiers and families need our support and prayers. We need to be focusing on doing the right things, making good decisions that will help the homecoming of our soldiers go well.
We are always changed by crisis. We can never be the same. But we can be better. There is a bitter way and there is a better way. The decisions a soldier makes while away from his family, and the decisions a spouse makes, or a family makes, while separated from the soldier, will determine if the reunion will go well.
Our goal is not only that our soldiers survive a deployment and come home to family and friends, but also that each and every soldier come home a better person. I am proud to have served.

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