Serving a one-year tour in Iraq as a Navy chaplain, I was assigned to the II Marine Expeditionary Force. My task: to provide ministry coverage to a battalion special task force located in the western desert of the Al Anbar province, an area bordering Syria and Jordan.
The region is arid, isolated, and harsh. The task force of marines providing security to the area was spread out in small groups occupying command outposts and forward operating bases throughout the region.
Providing ministry coverage required long convoys to the outposts from a base camp known as Camp Korean Village, a small village once built and occupied by North Koreans who were contracted by Saddam Hussein to build the highway that connects Jordan and Syria with Central Iraq.
In the summer, the temperature reaches 140 degrees. Doing ministry in this environment means long hours of boredom mixed with conducting field services for sometimes as few as two or three and at other times as many as 40.
I wasn't there long before I began to wonder if the personnel I was serving valued what I was doing. The military culture is not highly expressive, so it's sometimes hard to gauge how you're being received.
I wondered, Do these people value what I'm doing, even in a general sense? Does it make sense to get the education required, then go through the military training and the family sacrifices that are inherent with military chaplaincy? Can a person make an impact for God doing this?
After five months at Korean Village, I returned to Fallujah and rediscovered the refreshment that comes from the companionship of other chaplains. I quickly learned that other chaplains were having the same thoughts and questions.
I asked one chaplain friend how things were going. A reservist ...