Some things are worth remembering simply for the sake of how awful they were. I learned yesterday, in a very tangible way, that being a chaplain does not make one impervious to danger.
There are some chaplains that serve as an example of what not to do and other chaplains who serve as a paradigm of what I'm certain a good chaplain should be like. The former are few but glaring while the latter are even fewer and even more glaring. My friend, "Jay" is the latter.
When I grow up, I want to be a chaplain like Jay. He knows every soldier in his unit by name. Scripture is always on his lips and always appropriate to what soldiers are going through. He brings comfort where it's needed and a swift kick in the pants where it's needed. He plays the guitar and has a big picture of his family on the wall of his office, even in the desert. He has the respect of every member of his battalion from the commander to the private. He knows his lane and stays in it, and others come to him for help, advise, friendship, or to just grab a guitar and jam. I want to be a chaplain like my friend Jay.
Tonight I went to bed a bit early and grabbed a book to read. It was comfortable in my little hooch and for a moment or two I escaped my immediate situation. Before long someone knocked on my door and said I was needed in the TOC. When I arrived, our Medic said there had been a plane crash and the injured were being brought to the hospital. We jumped in his vehicle and zipped down the street. On the way there said something like, "I know you're good friends with Jay so I thought you would want to see him."
To that point, I didn't know Jay was involved. My heart sank. The medic said they didn't expect him to make it through the night. I've seen a lot of carnage here, but never a friend and fellow Chaplain. I began to feel ill at the prospect of seeing him. When I arrived in the ER the medic pointed to a man laying on a gurney and said that was him. He was being tended by several nurses and doctors and was awaiting transportation out.
I approached him and thought, "Wow, that looks nothing like Jay". His face was swollen and bruised. Tubes were coming out his mouth and nose. A nearby ventilator kept him breathing. The medic explained to me that he was on some kind of medication that paralyzed everything so he needed the ventilator to keep him alive. For the second time in as many weeks, I felt entirely helpless. All I could do in that situation is pray.
I am from a school of belief that takes Saint James literally when he writes, "Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up." With that in mind and being were I am, I usually keep a small vial of oil with me for just this kind of situation. Wouldn't you know it, I left it in my room. I began to look around the ER to find a substitute. My medic asked what I was looking for. Medics are know for their battle field improvisations to mend broken bodies so I said in a joking sort of voice, "Behold, battlefield ministry!" and grabbed a tube of the only thing I could find to anoint my friend with, surgical jelly. I squeezed a small amount onto my fingers and drew a cross on his swollen and purple forehead with it as I prayed for his recovery, his battalion, and his family. Soon thereafter, a helicopter arrived and he was taken away.
Jay's assistant was also injured quite badly and was in intensive care. I went in to pray with him also. He would be spending the night, as would one of the load masters on the aircraft. This morning I returned to the CSH to visit both. The load master had a broken elbow and told me that he had seen the pilots pull Jay out of the burning plane.
In the end, Jay and everyone elso on board that plane will be alright. He is on his way to Walter Reed Medical Center where he will see his wife and kids again and begin the long road to recovery.
I'm ready to go home.