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GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR SOUL |

October 19, 2011

Name: C.J. Grisham
Returned from: Iraq
Deployed to: Afghanistan
Milblog: Afghanistan War Journal

NOTE: This is a religious post. If you don’t believe in God, want to mock God, or get offended because you weren’t hugged enough as a child, do not read any further.

Framed CJ SOUL 1

The Soldiers from 3rd Platoon, 62nd Engineer Company, 4th Engineer Battalion pray before a mission. Although not all of the Soldiers are religious, they all join in to be a part of the circle and pray before every mission.

Nearly five years ago, I wrote a post based on my experience in Iraq called “How to Lose Your Soul.” It was difficult enough to publish the first time and is more embarrassing to point out again. But I never really published my thoughts leading up to that day and what led me to make that decision outside of that day’s events.

By the time it was written, I had been in sustained combat for nearly a week straight. We crossed the border just prior to midnight on the 20th and suffered virtually constant contact from that moment. While there were moments of quiet and boredom, they were interrupted by the reality of an enemy that thought they could defeat us.

Before you keep reading, keep in mind that is going to be a very religious post because in order to believe in a soul, you have to understand the religious nature of that soul as I see from my membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or “Mormons” we’re sometimes referred to. I write this post to highlight steps I learned from my last deployment to avoid suffering again.

I was baptized into the church on my 19th birthday. Two years after I had completely given up on a religion with God at its head and turned to a religion whose deity lived at the bottom of a bottle. Before I was old enough to legally drink I would be considered an alcoholic, though few ever knew it. Then I met a beautiful girl who seemed to make sense of my wasted life. For the first time, I felt like I had found someone worth changing my life for. She didn’t use profanity, didn’t drink, and lived her life in a manner that radiated a spirit and brightnesss about her. I wanted to be a better man (to borrow a line from Jack Nicholson) without being forced into it.

I studied the church, met with the missionaries, and asked a ton of questions. I had already read the Bible and had my own understanding of it. I was hesitant to be baptized into another church after being baptized into no fewer than five other religions in my search for truth and enlightment. So I didn’t make my decision lightly, and studied for three months. I read the Book of Mormon and reread the Bible. I prayed and fasted for answers. I had received the answers to my prayers. I had found my soulmate. I was reborn in a more complete knowledge that I was important and through Christ’s atonement I would be forgiven of my sins.

I learned about the principle of accountability that applies in our livesl. The Lord stated that we “are agents unto (our)selves” (Moses 6:56). However, we are accountable to the Lord for how we use that agency to better ourselves, and to help others. We are our brother’s keeper. I completely forgot that on this day back in March 2003.

The reasons became clear to me over the next several years as I sought to find myself again and get my life back on track spiritually. Through years of counseling and reliance on my wife’s spirituality I dug myself out of the hole it had taken mere days to dig myself into. Looking back, I can see clearly where I went wrong and I’m applying those lessons to this deployment.

First, I stopped praying. Not because I believed any less, but because I allowed myself to get caught up in stuff. Sure, I said little prayers as bombs were falling all around me and bullets whizzed by my head, but I never just prayed when things were fine. I only sought out God during my worst moments and began doubting why they were happening in the first place.

Framed CJ SOUL 2

A Navy Chaplain leads U.S. Marines with 1st platoon, Alpha Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance, Task Force Mech, in a moment for prayer before they head out on missions at Haditha Dam, Iraq, on May 10, 2008. 2nd LAR, Task Force Mech, Ground Combat Element, Multi National Force – West is conducting operations along the northern boundary of Al Anbar Province in support of Operation Defeat Al Qaida in the North. (U.S Marine photo/Sgt. Rome M. Lazarus)

In combat -- and in life, I’m sure -- we frequently ask how God can allow tragic things to happen. However, when we ask such questions we forget about free agency. Biblical scholars will recognize this basic tenant of Christianity from Revelations and the foundation of the war in Heaven as described in 12:7. Our scriptures described the cause of that war in which Satan had a plan to redeem mankind, but that redemption came at the expense of forced loyalty. Christ’s plan was that of free agency and allowing man to make the decision to choose the right.

So, the reason bad things happen is because bad people make choices that affect the lives of good people (or other bad people). If God stepped between good men and bad men every time, we wouldn’t have that free agency. We wouldn’t have those trials and tribulations that teach us how to overcome evil. It was part of the plan that Eve bite into that apple to open our eyes and begin exercising our free agency.

Because I hadn’t been praying, I couldn’t receive the answers through the spirit to the questions I had. It’s hard to hear the spirit over the sounds of combat. It’s hard to feel anything. And because I wasn’t laying the foundation of a strong faith prior to combat, that foundation was built upon sand that the storms of adversity washed away easily. I wasn’t in a position to get the answer I sought asking why there was so much death and destruction. The answer was there; I just wasn’t able to see it.

Second, I stopped reading my scriptures. When we pray, it is our time to speak with God directly. In return, God speaks to us in different ways. Sometimes, we receive instant revelations to the questions we are asking. Sometimes, as Garth Brooks pointed out, silence is the answer to our prayers. That silence can mean a few things, among them that the answer is so clear we just need to open our eyes to see it. In other words, if I pray to God that the Cowboys become a winning team this year, his silence probably means to stop asking for stupid things; the Cowboys will never have another winning season and stop being so selfish!

God also speaks to us through searching and pondering the scriptures. He may reveal something in a passage that we hadn’t noticed before. For example, many years ago I was having a rough time in both my personal and professional life. I was trying so hard to do everything right and everything seemed to be coming down hard on me. The harder I tried, the more I screwed stuff up. While reading in the Book of Mormon I came upon this passage in Mosiah 4:27: “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.” I was trying to do too much at one time and not focusing on any one task. That lack of focus caused me to drop many balls.

Finally, I had not gone to church in months. I had plenty of excuses, but the reality was that I wasn’t making the time. Sure, we were all busy, but not so busy I couldn’t find an hour each week to attend a sacrament meeting. I look at my faith as the equivalent of Green Lantern’s ring. As time goes on, its energy gets used and needs to be recharged in the lantern. Church is that lantern for me. I wasn’t going to church to get spiritually refreshed, and began the war without a fully charged ring. I didn’t recognize it at the time and probably wouldn’t have noticed had it not been for combat. I was even able to give fellow Soldiers blessings prior to crossing the border.

All those things made for a recipe for disaster when I needed to rely on that ring (my faith). It wasn’t as strong as it could have been.

So, this deployment I came in knowing what I needed to do to stay strong. I pray nightly and I read at least one chapter each night. My goal is to finish the entire Bible and Book of Mormon before I redeploy. I attend church services at least once a week (so far twice a week) to recharge my ring. The fellowship I receive also provides me with a support network if it’s ever needed.

I also know that this deployment is nothing like my last deployment. I’m not going to have the same challenges as I was presented with last time. I’m not involved in sustained combat on a daily basis. But this deployment does present its own challenges that come with too much idle time. So, I’ve found constructive ways to spend what little free time I allow myself. Of course, there’s not as much free time as I’d like to have, but it could be worse.

I write letters to my family and supporters. I keep up with the news. I take photos. I read books onto a DVD that is sent to my kids. I also read my own books. I’ve started the Insanity workout program to get in better shape so I can keep up with the youthful vigor of my wife!

In other words, I’m choosing wholesome activities to occupy my time. I’m keeping the Spirit as close as possible and that ring charged so that when/if an event arises in which I or someone else needs to rely upon it, I won’t waver. I will not falter. I will not fail (to borrow a great speech from a great man). It took me years to find my soul again. I’m not losing it this time.

Comments

We do not share the same faith, but your comments about the importance of prayer and daily bible reading are spot on. An elder of mine once said 'we need a constant infilling of the Spirit of God... because we leak'. Some leaks just bleed us out, better to keep filled so that we have a cool cup of water for someone else who needs it.

Be strong and thank you for your service and writing.

Chris Saulnier

Gray, Maine U.S.A.

I find the Book of Mormon war chapters particularly enlightening regarding this issue. Low intensity insurgency type conflict especially has the tendency to harden the heart and make people become "past feeling" unless you have those proper habits formed to keep yourself "unspotted from the world".

I kind of did the same thing was baptise when was about fourteen had a strong belief in the bible,but as I age I stop praying stop beleving.So I guess I need someone in my life to get me back on the right track.

Thanks for the post - getting ready to support a family member's third deployment to SWA and this post is awesome. I will be sharing it asap. This one came to mind reading your post: Alma 32:34. Thanks for your service and faith!

Appreciate the warning...

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