If you were following my column in 2009, you’d remember that I wrote about my deployment as the chaplain for the Air Force field hospital in Balad, Iraq. If you missed them, allow me summarize .
In one, I mentioned counseling a soldier who was feeling guilty about killing people. When I tried to assure him that he was doing his job, he protested.
“You don’t understand, Chaplain, I’m starting to enjoy the killing.”
He was right. I didn’t understand. His situation became a mental health referral.
Probably the most tragic incident occurred when a squad of three soldiers arrived in our ER. In a few moments of controlled chaos, our staff removed clothing and did chest compressions, but the more experienced doctors stepped back, staring at their bloody boots.
In that silent moment, I heard short sobs and the snapping sound of elastic gloves being removed in defeat. The soldiers were all dead on arrival. For many of the staff, this was the worst thing they’d ever witnessed.
The third story is one I didn’t tell. It happened an hour later when my chaplain assistant interrupted the fist pounding I was giving my desk. The ER requested that I return to talk to a surviving sergeant who’d killed the insurgent responsible for the death of our three soldiers.
In our short conversation, the sergeant seemed unscathed . But he wasn’t.
A few hours later, the staff reported that the sergeant was accosting Iraqi patients. Inside my office, he used graphic language to tell me how he wanted to kill Iraqis. The doctors sent him home for treatment.
The cost of PTSD is building. This month, an American soldier killed 16 civilians in Afghanistan. In January, another veteran killed a Mount Hood park ranger .
All three of these men returned from their combat service as changed men. And if these soldiers acted from their trauma, just think how much is stirring in the hearts and minds of those who have not acted.
In keeping with my New Year’s resolution to write more authentically, let me borrow the words of Walter Cronkite when he described the war of the last generation:
“For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. … For every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us. … And with each escalation, the world comes closer to the brink of cosmic disaster."
We’ve exacted our revenge for 9/11 from Afghanistan, but these strategies are no longer a viable way to effect the change we desire. I am sure we need to withdraw.
So, to those readers who were wondering what this chaplain thinks about this war, now you know.
And to those who have insisted that I stick to religious subjects , I’m not sure where you’d find a more religious topic than the life and death of war.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of “No Small Miracles.” He also serves as an Air National Guard chaplain and is board-certified in the Association of Professional Chaplains. You can call him at 321-549-2500, email email@example.com, visit website thechaplain.net or write him at P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759.