This week I really do not have a message to send home to you. Instead, I just need to grieve a little bit. This column is so healing for me because I get to share with you information that 1. I am allowed to share, and 2. gives you a picture of what happens on a deployment. I am so honored to be here. You really cannot describe this place. I mean we have a beautiful pool, Pizza Hut, and a Burger King. 3 squares and even 4 if you want to stay up that late. A BX that has everything you need. But then there is the 125+ heat, the dust, the smoke from the burning pits, and of course the mortars, not to mention the long hours and no civilian clothes allowed anywhere. Picture a place where you can never get alone. And there is never quiet (always a generator generating, or your neighbor when you’re in your room). So how do you picture that? I don’t know, I wish you could see it for yourself. We have the busiest airport in the world. And we carry the tradition of the Tuskegee Airmen. I am proud to be called one of them…
This week I finally tracked down the pics from one of our CASF missions, which is only appropriate since the hospital and CASF ministry is really the most impactful part of this last week.
I don’t know how to describe it except to say that every time a wounded hero passes into the next life I feel the need to grieve for that person. They came here sacrificially voluntarily as a member of the most effective armed forces in the history of the world for good in our world. Individually each soldier represents a family back home who is prayerful in their remembrance of their loved one who has gone off to serve in a very dangerous place. They come here to offer hope to a people who most likely have never considered hope. You see, hope does not exist outside of a Christian framework. And so I think about the wounded and those who don’t make it. The one’s we honor in Patriot details (there was one yesterday). The patriots who will make their final ride home.
You see, deployment is very personal. Each person comes to OEF or OIF and is faced with their own set of challenges and each person finds their own way to cope with the challenges they face. For some it may be just going to work each day in the brutal 125+ temperatures. The long hours. For others it may be some kind of family trouble back home that weighs on their mind while they are here. The mortars that impact, the sirens, and the counterfire batteries that tend to work on the nerves. For some it is the struggle of treating an Enemy Prisoner of War and watching our boys and girls come in torn apart from the blasts and the shrapnel. Treating the one who will live as an amputee for the rest of his life who was only 24 years old. Or the chaplain who sits at the bedside of one who is dying and trying to bring comfort not only to the one passing, but also to that hospital staff who is there wishing they could do something, but knowing that nothing they do can help the young man laying in front of them. Or it could be the gunner who just reached down to grab a Gatorade inside his humvee at the critical moment that an IED blows up and takes his humvee out of commission, knowing he will have to go back out another day. Maybe it is the CASF nurse who’s personal mission it is to make as comfortable as possible the injured before they medivac them out. Each person has their own set of challenges and duties for each day.
Sometimes I wonder how life can just go on around me. Today I went to the pool and I laid there looking at the people enjoying their time off. Last night I went to a concert, an unsigned band from NY touring the AOR. Worship this morning was so challenging because I wondered what to say to these brave people. The same is true every prayer I pray for my guntruckers who go outside the wire to deliver mail, gasoline, and other needed supplies to forward areas. To think that some guy is going to open his mail and never appreciate the sacrifice it took for some guy to risk his life traveling by convoy to bring it to him. I come from the hospital and sometimes I just go back to my room and sit quietly to reflect on what I just experienced. In the moment it is surreal. It’s never until later that the tears come. It’s then that I have time to think about that person’s family, their squad members, or their commander who told them to do whatever it is they were doing when trouble came their way. Even now, I can hear the helicopters at the hospital unloading and maybe even loading to take some back out their units after receiving treatment. How can life just keep going? Many people have made the comment to me about seeing me everywhere at all times of the day. They ask, do you ever sleep? I laugh as I consider the question. Yes I tell them, we all have to sleep. But there is so much to do and I get only 4 months here to do it in. Who knows when I will get to come back.
But it’s not all bad news. There are so many good stories too. So many of the Iraqi people children and adults who come here and receive treatment. One Iraqi man I spoke with who was bringing his son in for a bullet wound said he was scared to come here. Scared of the Americans. But after his son received treatment he said he was very glad that he came. He appreciated what the Americans did for him and his son. I gave that man a bag of beef jerky and told him thank you for letting us help you. And you know we are a good people, Americans. While the enemy captures and terrorizes our prisoners. We treat theirs and give them beds alongside our men and women in uniform. We give them the same supplies we would give to our troops. I see the reports about prisoner abuse in this prison or that. But in my heart I know those cases are so isolated. I wish the news cameras could see the suicide bomber in our ICU unit. He tried to blow up our guys and failed, wounded only himself in the process and we give him medical treatment to keep him alive. We are a good people.
Well, like I said in the beginning. This email is more for me to simply grieve and honor those who I was with this week when they were in their final moments or who flew out of here to hospitals in the rear. It is to honor the brave warriors who come here for a year long tour who go out on convoys day after day. It is to tell you that what these guys and gals are doing is worth the sacrifice that is being made. It brings tears to my eyes to think about it, but let us not forget what they have done here. They are the best of what our country is!!!!
I hold back a lot in these writings, but if you want to see more stories of Balad AB from some who do not hold as much back you can find them all over the web. You can google them. But here are a couple of my favorites.
ABPnews will publish one entry a week from the journal then-Capt. Charles Seligman kept while deployed to Iraq as an Air Force chaplain in 2005. Now a major, Seligman currently serves as the deputy wing chaplain for the 59th Medical Wing at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. He is endorsed by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. You can read more of his story published September 11, 2013. You can also read older journal entries from Maj. Seligman.