I have anxiously anticipated them for months, and they finally arrived a few weeks ago: my deployment orders.
The orders direct me to leave home the day after Christmas to go to Balad Air Base in Iraq and serve as its hospital chaplain for the next 120 days.
With the orders came the inevitable feeling of “What have I done?”
I think I’m in good company asking the question. Jesus expressed a related thought in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed, “If it be your will, may this cup pass from me.”
Unlike Jesus, I don’t have any notions of bringing salvation. In fact, I don’t mind telling you that since receiving the orders, I’ve prayed a paraphrased version of the Gethsemane prayer numerous times: “If it be your will, God, let these orders be canceled.”
Some folks have asked me, “If you feel that way, then why did you volunteer?”
In giving my answer, I tell them what I’ve learned about a soldier’s struggle to serve. The lessons learned came from something called a deployment line.
The deployment line is the place most of us will go on our way to a combat zone. The line is a one-stop shop consisting of rows of desks, each manned by someone who will check our immunizations, wills, dog tags, medical or dental issues and even personal problems.
Initially, the talk in the lines is light. You overhear good-natured complaints about the upcoming flights, haircuts or the bulging weight of our duffel bags.
Still, I’ve seen the serious moments. Those moments usually come near the table labeled “Dependent Care,” where I’ll often see a husband and a wife seeking approval of a child care plan that leaves their children with friends.
At the legal table, I’ve seen single soldiers produce wills that leave their possessions to parents. A power of attorney also is submitted so Dad will be able to make the necessary health care decisions should the soldier come home incapacitated.
Adjacent to that table, an airman verifies her address so Casualty Notification Teams can properly notify her family if she is wounded, dead or missing.
At the last table, there is usually a chaplain like myself offering camouflaged Bibles and other reading material. Eyes moisten and faces harden as the chaplain asks, “Sergeant, is there anything that would prevent you from going on this deployment?”
The question is asked because not everyone snaps a proverbial salute at the receipt of his or her orders. It is possible that some are feeling a conscientious objection to this action. Others may feel depressed or feel that they may even be a danger to themselves or others.
Gethsemane prayers aside, 99 percent of us are ready to go. Some of us feel fate at work. Others talk about patriotism, while others feel a larger force outside themselves that moved them to this point.
Yet, despite our philosophizing, there are still tons of stuff beneath our camouflaged exterior. We are leaving families, homes and jobs. Our psyche is often a mixing bowl for fear, pride and bravado.
This is our Gethsemane moment. We pause with only a fleeting thought as we proceed to “drink from the cup” that our leaders have given us, whether we agree or not.
And, for most of us, it will be this willingness to drink from the cup that will harden our resolve to both win this fight and to come home to those we love.